Did J Street Sic IRS on Pro-Israel Rival?

Did J Street Sic IRS on Pro-Israel Rival?

New revelations that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) targeted Tea Party and conservative organizations for additional review and investigation–and that senior officials knew about the practice, despite earlier denials–have shed light on the IRS’s aggressive investigation of a new pro-Israel group, Z Street, in 2010. 

Z Street was started as a conservative counterweight to the Obama administration’s favored pro-Israel group, the left-wing J Street. The leaders of Z Street were alarmed when their application for non-profit status with the IRS was subject to additional scrutiny, including probing questions about the group’s views that indicated a high degree of skepticism–not toward the group’s non-profit eligibility, but towards its substantive beliefs.

Remarkably, when challenged to explain its aggressive investigation, the IRS cited the possibility that Z Street might be involved in funding terrorism. As Lori Lowenthal Marcus of the Jewish Press notes:

For years the IRS has denied it took any such inappropriate actions and has done its best to prevent Z STREET from pursuing its claim of viewpoint discrimination. The IRS even took the position that because Israel is a country “where terrorism happens,” the service was justified in taking additional time to determine whether Z STREET was involved with funding terrorism.  Z STREET is a purely educational organization that has never funded anything, either in Israel or anywhere else.

The way Z Street–which is now suing the IRS–was treated parallels the way in which Tea Party groups were treated. Indeed, when Congress launches the government-wide investigation that Republican leaders now promise, it could emerge that both were targeted for the same reason: to intimidate and silence opposition.

In 2010, Matthew Hausman of the Jewish Policy Center raised the alarm about the way Z Street was being treated, noting that such tactics had been used before–long before the Nixon administration (the historical parallel many politicians and journalists have drawn). Indeed, Jewish critics of the Roosevelt administration once faced similar harassment–a noteworthy example, given Obama’s fealty to FDR’s big government ideals:

The strategic abuse of IRS authority for political reasons is not a new phenomenon. On the contrary, it has been employed by Democrats as well as Republicans to punish ideological nonconformity since the institution of the income tax. During the Second World War, for example, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) requested the IRS to audit the Bergson Group’s finances because of its outspoken criticism of Roosevelt’s anemic response to the Holocaust and its support for the Irgun. The Bergson Group–unlike Rabbi Stephen Wise, the AJC, and other Jewish acolytes of Franklin Roosevelt–was dedicated to publicizing the Holocaust as it unfolded and exposing FDR’s refusal to take meaningful steps to prevent the slaughter. At the administration’s request, Rabbi Wise, the AJC, and others attempted to discredit the Bergson Group and its supporters and derail their advocacy efforts.

Hausman also observed that the investigation of Z Street “occurred not long after the left-wing organization J Street announced its campaign to lobby the Treasury Department to revoke the tax-exempt status of Jewish charities that support religious and cultural institutions in Judea and Samaria.” 

That request may have had an impact. J Street enjoys privileged access to Democratic Party leaders and to senior members of the Obama administration. Its president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, once stated: “Our No. 1 agenda item is to do whatever we can in Congress to act as the president’s blocking back.” (To date, J Street, a non-profit, has never been reported as the target of IRS investigation as the result of its partisan political activities.)

J Street made clear at the time that it wanted its inquiry to be one-sided–that is, investigating only Jewish charities for activities in disputed regions of the Middle East, and not Muslim or Arab charities. As Ben-Ami said, when confronted in Chicago in July 2010: “I don’t give a shit about Islamic charities.”

At the time, Hausman wondered whether pro-Israel groups had been singled out. It seems likely that they were not alone–that the targeting of Tea Party and conservative groups, which occurred from 2010 to 2012, was likely connected. 

The common thread: opposition to Obama, and instigation or support of these IRS inquiries by left-wing groups and mainstream media institutions devoted to defending the administration.


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