How the IRS Went After a Pro-Israel Group, and Why It Matters

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.

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More about: Barack Obama, IRS, Israel & Zionism, U.S. Politics

The Proper Jewish Response to the Pittsburgh Massacre

Nov. 21 2018

In the Jewish tradition, it is commonplace to add the words zikhronam li-vrakhah (may their memory be for a blessing) after the names of the departed, but when speaking of those who have been murdered because they were Jews, a different phrase is used: Hashem yikom damam—may God avenge their blood. Meir Soloveichik explains:

The saying reflects the fact that when it comes to mass murderers, Jews do not believe that we must love the sinner while hating the sin; in the face of egregious evil, we will not say the words ascribed to Jesus on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We believe that a man who shoots up a synagogue knows well what he does; that a murderer who sheds the blood of helpless elderly men and women knows exactly what he does; that one who brings death to those engaged in celebrating new life knows precisely what he does. To forgive in this context is to absolve; and it is, for Jews, morally unthinkable.

But the mantra for murdered Jews that is Hashem yikom damam bears a deeper message. It is a reminder to us to see the slaughter of eleven Jews in Pennsylvania not only as one terrible, tragic moment in time, but as part of the story of our people, who from the very beginning have had enemies that sought our destruction. There exists an eerie parallel between Amalek, the tribe of desert marauders that assaulted Israel immediately after the Exodus, and the Pittsburgh murderer. The Amalekites are singled out by the Bible from among the enemies of ancient Israel because in their hatred for the chosen people, they attacked the weak, the stragglers, the helpless, those who posed no threat to them in any way.

Similarly, many among the dead in Pittsburgh were elderly or disabled; the murderer smote “all that were enfeebled,” and he “feared not God.” Amalek, for Jewish tradition, embodies evil incarnate in the world; we are commanded to remember Amalek, and the Almighty’s enmity for it, because, as Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik explained, the biblical appellation refers not only to one tribe but also to our enemies throughout the ages who will follow the original Amalek’s example. To say “May God avenge their blood” is to remind all who hear us that there is a war against Amalek from generation to generation—and we believe that, in this war, God is not neutral.

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More about: Amalek, Anti-Semitism, Judaism, Religion & Holidays