In 2010, a nascent pro-Israel organization called Z Street applied to the Internal Revenue Service for tax-exempt status. The IRS responded by subjecting the organization to greater-than-usual scrutiny, asking extensive questions about its political positions and opening a formal inquiry into whether it had ties to terrorism—thus preventing it from beginning its operations. After the process dragged on for years, Z Street’s founder Lori Lowenthal Marcus and her husband Jerome successfully sued the IRS, resulting in its eventual and only very recent acknowledgement of malpractice. Jonathan Tobin explains what happened:
The Z Street case must be viewed in the context of what came to be known as the IRS scandal. During the first term of the Obama administration, the IRS began subjecting conservative groups that applied for nonprofit status as educational organizations to the sort of special scrutiny not applied to liberal groups. . . . While no direct link between the White House and IRS decisions was ever produced, what followed was very much in line with the administration’s desire to prevent conservatives from taking advantage of the law. But it was not until after the 2010 midterms and President Obama’s re-election in 2012—when the work of those nonprofits might have impacted public opinion—that the controversy was aired and the policy reversed.
That’s where Z Street comes in. It was applying for 501(c)(3) status as a group that sought to educate the public about Israel. But its support for Jewish settlements put it in the cross hairs of federal bureaucrats, who apparently got the message from on high that such an organization was to be put through the wringer.
As was the case with the concerted process slowdown of some conservative groups, the attention given to Z Street was not about whether it was actually eligible for nonprofit status under the law. Rather, it was a function of the Obama administration’s dislike of its particular politics. Z Street was a supporter of the settlement movement at a time when President Obama was determined to force the Israeli government to stop building in the West Bank. . . .
This was not an inadvertent error [by the IRS]. During the course of their lawsuit, the Marcuses uncovered the fact that the IRS was compiling lists of groups that opposed the Obama administration’s policy toward Israel by drawing upon information from viciously anti-Zionist websites like MondoWeiss and Electronic Intifada. The bureaucrats seeking to mold tax policy to fit Obama’s opinions about the Middle East were not only brazenly seeking to politicize something that should be above politics but were also aware that doing so in this manner was wrong since they wrote to each other about avoiding an email trail that could document their intentions.