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

 

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war