A Jerusalem-based civil-rights organization has filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service against the Presbyterian Church USA for supporting the “Boycott, Divest, Sanction” movement that seeks to withdraw financial support from any Israel-related interest or companies that do business with Israel.
Shurat HaDin Founder Nitsana Darshan-Leitner says the PCUSA’s decision to urge its members to divest from companies that do business in Israel is political, and the church’s tax exempt status should be revoked.
She argued IRS guidelines bar the denomination from engaging in political and public policy.
“They’re not supposed to take sides on the anti-Israel movement,” Darshan-Leitner said.
The complaint to the IRS says the violations include: “a) meetings with and endorsement of Hezbollah, a U.S.-designated terrorist entity responsible for the murder of Americans; b) anti-Semitic acts and statements; c) divestment measures against American companies operating in Israel; d) direct political lobbying of Congress; e) publication and distribution of political advocacy material; f) repeated partisan political statements; and g) conducting political training institutes and seminars (collectively, the ‘Non-Exempt Acts’).”
The complaint asks the IRS to investigate the PCUSA and determine if its actions are consistent with the operation of a church or religious organization.
The PCUSA did not respond to WND requests for comment.
Darshan-Leitner contends that if the PCUSA wants to become a political organization it should not enjoy the rights of a church.
“Therefore we have told the IRS to change their status and to take away their benefits,” she said.
The PCUSA voted at its 221st General Assembly to recommend that the church’s pension board, its charitable foundation and the membership divest assets from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola for doing business in Israel.
The church said in a statement:
The 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approved a measure recommending that the Board of Pensions, the Foundation, and its members divest from three corporations whose products it believes contribute to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The companies – Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions – are used by the Israeli government in the occupied territories and are not in compliance with the General Assembly’s policy on socially responsible investing.
The PC(USA) has a decades-long history of socially responsible investing. The General Assembly measure also says that this action does not indicate an alignment with the overall global Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement. It affirms the importance of economic measures and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians that support and advance a negotiated two-state solution, and encourages Presbyterians to travel to the Holy Land to give broad support to the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities throughout the Middle East.
The General Assembly also called for a study to determine whether a two-state solution continues to be viable. Regarding Zionism Unsettled, the assembly declared that the publication does not represent the views of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Darshan-Leitner disputes the statement, charging the PCUSA’s actions are openly anti-Semitic.
“It’s anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic. The BDS movement has long been recognized as an anti-Semitic movement, and it’s anti-Israel. They’ve advocated boycotts of the academics of Israel and the universities,” she said.
She sees no basis for the movement except to target Israel.
“The movement’s not based on anything like treatment of the universities on the West Bank or anything except the fact that it’s Israel. If you boycott someone or something on that basis, it’s racism. If you boycott something just because it has to do with Israel, it’s anti-Semitic,” Darshan-Leitner said.
Israel-based intelligence analyst Adina Kutnicki said the PCUSA’s actions have made news in some conservative Israeli outlets.
“Israel National News, Arutz Sheva and a few other pro-Israeli sites have taken note of the action. However, it has largely been kept out of the mainstream media in Israel,” Kutnicki said. “Yes, the left, as in America, controls the mainstream channels.”
Darshan-Leitner also said none of the organizations that support the wider BDS movement support Israel’s right to exist.
“They don’t even believe in the right of Israel to exist along with a Palestinian state. They only believe in a one-state solution, and that’s a Palestinian state. This is entirely an effort to delegitimize Israel and finally reach their goal of the dissolution of the state of Israel,” she said.
She believes that in the end, the IRS will see the wisdom of the complaint and revoke the church’s tax-exempt status.
Kutnicki also believes the complaint has a solid legal basis.
“As to Shurat’s charge, well, it is absolutely the case that under non-profit rules, whether it’s a 501(c)3 or a 501(c)4 or other variant, it is absolutely forbidden to inject political directives into said organization,” Kutnicki said.
Kutnicki said Darshan-Leitner and her organization are “rock stars in the pro-Israel public.”
Kutnicki said that in a lengthy list of “knockout punches” is a recent win in a New York court against the Palestinian Authority on behalf of 11 families who were victims of terrorism.
She said that through the BDS movement, the Muslim Brotherhood and its front groups “are locking arms with Islamists.”
Kutnicki said there are many who are trying to smear Shurat HaDin’s reputation by describing it as an arm of the Israeli government.
She insisted it is “nothing of the kind.”
“In fact, the ruling left, and the left does execute policy in Israel, regardless of who sits at the helm, attempts to block and smear Shurat at every turn,” Kutnicki said.