Using the Tax Code to Punish Settlements: Vindictive, Illiberal, and Unconstitutional

Oct. 10 2016

The self-styled “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobbying group J Street and its allies are pushing for the Treasury Department to investigate the tax-exempt status of charities that provide aid to Jews living in the West Bank. As Eugene Kontorovich explains, such a move would violate the Constitution and set a pernicious precedent—and is based on completely unfounded presumptions about the settlements:

While J Street claims that its demand is justified on the grounds that private Americans’ support for settlements contravenes “established public policy,” J Street is calling for the administration to do something unprecedented and clearly unconstitutional. To put it simply, J Street et al. are asking that some non-profits be denied tax exemptions because they disagree with the president on diplomatic matters. That’s what going against ”public policy” means here—not violating any statutes, but pursuing goals at odds with the foreign policy of the president. . . .

In its effort to find a legal basis for its illiberal campaign, the most J Street can invoke in favor of its claim of a clear “public policy” is political statements [about West Bank settlements] from the executive branch, and a non-binding and long-rejected 1979 letter from a State Department legal adviser. But as frustrating as this may be to J Street, there is no U.S. law or clearly established U.S. policy which indicates that settlements are illegal. . . .

A State Department memo is not a law or even an agency regulation. . . . No official has ever mistaken the memo for a legal enactment; indeed, a mere two years after the 1979 letter, President Reagan announced that settlements are lawful, and presidential administrations in the 35 years since then have studiously avoided expressing any opinion on the lawfulness of settlements. Meanwhile Congress has passed numerous laws—which do establish U.S. law and policy—that clearly show Israeli settlements are not illegal. . . .

Worse yet for J Street is the fact that even if there were a U.S. policy that Israeli settlement construction violates international law, that policy would have nothing to do with U.S. citizens supporting libraries, schools, and other services in those communities. . . . Most anti-settlement scholars are forced to concede that settlers themselves do not violate international law. . . . And just as certainly there is nothing in the Carter-era State Department letter that claims that charitable contributions by Americans to settlements violate the law. . . .

J Street’s call for a tax inquisition is authoritarian, anti-democratic, unconstitutional, arbitrary, vindictive, and, to put it delicately, uncharitably focused on the Jews.

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More about: Constitution, Israel & Zionism, J Street, Settlements, U.S. Foreign policy


Why Israel Pretends That Hamas Fired Rockets by Accident

March 21 2019

Israeli military and political officials have repeated Hamas’s dubious claim that the launching of two rockets at Tel Aviv last week was inadvertent. To Smadar Perry, accepting Hamas’s story rather than engaging in further retaliation is but a convenient, and perhaps necessary, way of aiding Egyptian efforts to broker a deal with the terrorist group. But even if these efforts succeed, the results will be mixed:

The [Israeli] security cabinet has met in Tel Aviv and decided that they would continue indirect negotiations with Gaza. A message was sent to Egypt, whose delegation is going back to Gaza to pass on the Israeli demands for calm. The Egyptians also have to deal with the demands from Hamas, which include, among other things, an increase in aid from $15 million to $30 million per month and an increase in the supply of electricity.

The requests are reasonable, but they do leave a sour taste in the mouth. Israel must ensure that this financial aid does not end up in the pockets of Hamas and its associates. [Israel] also knows that if it says “no” to everything, the Iranians will step in, with the help of their Gazan friends in Islamic Jihad. They are just waiting for the opportunity.

Hamas also must deal with the fallout from a series of massive handouts from Qatar. For when the citizens of the Gaza Strip saw that the money was going to the Hamas leadership, who were also enjoying a fine supply of electricity to their own houses, they took to the streets in protest—and this time it was not Israel that was the focus of their anger. . .

[But] here is the irony. With Egyptian help, Israel can reach understandings for calm with Gaza, despite the lack of a direct channel. . . . In the West Bank, where the purportedly friendlier Fatah is in charge, it is more complicated, at least until the eighty-three-year-old Mahmoud Abbas is replaced.

As evidence for that last statement, consider the murder of two Israelis in the West Bank on Sunday, and the Palestinians who threw explosives at Israeli soldiers at Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem yesterday.

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More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, West Bank