Tea party organizations, patriot groups, Christian outreaches and even adoptive parents have been identified as classes that the Obama administration’s Internal Revenue Service targeted with harassment.
Now, another type of group has been identified that may have been the test case to determine how far the IRS could go before there is too much backlash, officials say: supporters of Israel.
According to Alana Goodman of the Washington Free Beacon, the IRS was egged on by Palestinian organizations to come down hard on groups that promote an Israeli perspective.
The news site said media scrutiny began as early as March 26, 2009, when the Washington Post’s David Ignatius published a column questioning the groups’ tax-exempt status.
Then the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee started lobbying against the pro-Israel groups.
According to the Wall Street Journal, such tax-exempt groups were donating to West Bank settlers, and State Department officials wanted the settlers out to meet the demands of Obama’s Middle East policy.
“As the American government seeks to end the four-decade Jewish settlement enterprise and foster a Palestinian state in the West Bank,” the Journal quoted the New York Times saying, “the American Treasury helps sustain the settlements through tax breaks on donations to support them.”
The article suggested that Washington demands that its policy be promoted sent a message to the IRS, which “coincidentally adjusted its enforcement regime.”
The Wall Street Journal said that’s what happened in 2010 and 2012 when Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and Chuck Schumer encouraged the IRS to tighten the screws on conservative tax-exempt groups.
The Free Beacon report said it now has identified at least five pro-Israel organizations that faced IRS audits following the coordinated campaign by White House-allied activist groups in 2009 and 2010.
Some of those groups’ leaders remain too terrified of the Obama administration to put their statements in the record, the report said.
But the Free Beacon noted many groups criticized the administration when Obama demanded that Israel stop construction in certain areas immediately. The critics of the pro-Israel groups argued that they were undermining Obama’s Middle East policy.
The report said on July 5, 2010, the Times published a 5,000-word story complaining about such pro-Israel organizations and documenting that a senior State Department official said they were a problem.
Shortly after, J Street, a pro-Palestinian council, demanded investigations.
The Free Beacon identified one of the targeted groups as HaYovel, run by Shari and Tommy Waller.
Tommy Waller said the audit notice he received was suspicious because the administration was “100 percent opposed to Jewish sovereignty in that area of Israel,” while he was supportive of Jerusalem control over Judea and Samaria.
WND published several reports at that time that documented the Obama administration’s agenda.
It was then that an attorney for an educational organization called Z Street said there was evidence IRS agents under the direction of the Obama administration intentionally targeted the free speech and religious rights of American Jews.
WND had reported weeks earlier when the IRS delayed approval of a tax-exempt status for the private organization and was reviewing its educational work after explaining it must be examined by Washington because its activities may “contradict the administration’s public policies.”
That allegation was contained in a federal lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by Z Street, a Merion Station, Pa., group that educates on the statehood and status of Israel.
Subsequently, Jerome M. Marcus, an attorney for Z Street, revealed to WND that additional documents were found demonstrating the IRS has moved “beyond the pale” by cracking down on education groups that focus on Israel.
Marcus said such “viewpoint discrimination” is a violation of the First Amendment. He said the evidence suggested that it was a formal policy of the IRS to pursue such groups.
Marcus wrote at the time: “As detailed in the Declaration of Jerome M. Marcus, Z STREET’s counsel in this case, after the instant Complaint was filed, Plaintiff learned that another organization – this one simply Jewish and without any publicly stated positions on political issues affecting the State of Israel – applied for a charitable exemption. While the application was pending, its representative received a letter from the IRS, all but the first page of which appears as Exhibit 1 to Mr. Marcus’s declaration. The letter, sent not by Agent Gentry, who was handling Plaintiff’s application, but by a different IRS agent, inquires of the applicant: ‘Does your organization support the existence of the land of Israel? Describe your organization’s religious belief system towards the land of Israel.'”
Marcus continued, “Can one imagine that an application for tax exemption could – constitutionally – be affected in any conceivable way by the answer to these questions?”
Yet during the later elections, especially 2012, questions from the IRS even included what were the contents of the prayers of organization members, what did they say on Facebook, with whom did they meet and what did they intend to say.
The IRS at the time said it was executing its “Israel Special Policy” which agent Diane Gentry informed Marcus about orally during talks about the non-profit application.
“This is not an appropriate inquiry – what are your religious beliefs,” Marcus told WND at the time. “As long as one’s beliefs are factually based, IRS has no business questioning them. Inquiring into the substance of one’s political beliefs is beyond the pale. It’s pure viewpoint discrimination and a violation of the First Amendment.”
Lori Lowenthal-Marcus, founder of Z Street, said then in an interview that the group was formally organized during the summer of 2009 and applied for charitable tax-exempt status from IRS. The IRS’ delay in granting 501(c)3 status “damaged” the fundraising of the group, as large donors usually want their donations to be tax deductible.
Even tax law professors were outraged, according to a posting on the blog for tax lawyer and professors which asks, “Is failure to support Obama administration’s foreign policy grounds to deny tax exempt status?”
The Jewish Press said the conclusions were disturbing.
“Folks, this is nightmare territory, except, it turns out, all your nightmares have been real. The U.S. may declare its friendship to ‘the Jewish States’ night and day, but when it comes down to the reality of tax exemptions, you’ll get better treatment if you’re associated with Hamas than with right-wing issues in Israel.
“This is Venezuelan style democracy, folks. And the fact that the IRS auditor was citing it matter-of-fact like, suggests it was actual policy, and, as such, a blatant violation of every known democratic principle.”