Is there an IRS crack down against the Palestine movement in the works?

During a 5 March hearing before the US House Subcommittee on Terrorism, witnesses suggested that the IRS revoke the tax exempt status of NGOs viewed as being critical of Israel or supportive of the BDS movement.

The hearing, entitled Threats to Israel: Terrorist Funding and Trade Boycotts, called the author Edwin Black and Kaufman fellow from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) David Pollock to be among its witnesses. When asked by Rep. Juan Vargas “where is this money coming from” to support the BDS movement, Black replied that:

The number-one source of BDS funding is taxpayers. Here is how it works. [...] For each million dollars of tax exempt money, American taxpayers have to pony up $440,000. The number-one organization which has been associated with this process has been the New Israel Fund which gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Coalition of Women for Peace so that they could create a global infrastructure of boycotts including a database called Who Profits. They stopped giving this money in 2011 but now they continue to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to organizations like Breaking the Silence, Adalah and Bisallam, which are absolutely essential to keep the BDS alive.

Along these lines, Pollack suggested that:

I think there could be, as my fellow witness just noted, there could be an opportunity to investigate the tax exempt status of organizations that might be knowingly or unknowingly funding activities that are either illegal or improper or not eligible for tax exempt status because they are political advocacy.

There appears to be a concerted campaign by certain segments of the Israel lobby to have the IRS audit and investigate non-profits seen as being unacceptably disrespectful of Israel. On 20 May of this past year, ex-Israeli Ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon posted to his Facebook that: “Israel ambassadors in countries where these [pro-Palestinian] organizations seek funding, mainly the USA, should work to have these organizations outlawed, denying them their ability to raise tax-exempt donations.” Even earlier this year, there is the case of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO), a leftist Christian group which raised money to send humanitarian aid to the besieged Gaza Strip. The IRS initiated an investigation of the group at the bidding of two members of Congress who asserted the group may be responsible for aiding Hamas. The non-profit status of this group now hangs in the balance.

While the IFCO case may be more about allegations of material support than advocacy, we should remain on the lookout for improper IRS scrutiny of other pro-Palestinian NGOs in the future. It should also be remembered that despite the agency’s recent controversy for allegedly persecuting the Tea Party movement, it has historically been a tool for hindering the left (examples here, here and here).

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