Opponents in Israel of the American tax-exempt organization-funded V15 campaign effort have laid several complaints against it: one, the foreign funding (including U.S. government funding) of an Israeli campaign violates Israeli election law, and two, an American tax-exempt entity funding a political campaign violates American law.
But even V15’s defenses to those charges make it ripe for lethal criticism.
V15 and its funder, OneVoice, claim to empower the “majority of Israelis” to change Israeli leadership (that’s what their posters say: “We’re Changing the Leadership”) to reflect that majority’s views. In fact, the goals of OneVoice represent neither the majority of Israelis, nor even the stated political views of the Palestinian Authority.
Let’s start with the complaints already on record.
In this corner, we have V15, the community organizing-style political campaign effort which imported the skills and funding of American leftists to Israel. OneVoice has received, under the Obama administration, large grants from the U.S. State Department and various foreign political parties and efforts. Also, the fact that the son of Mahmoud Abbas – the acting leader of the Palestinian Authority, is on its Advisory Council, is difficult to ignore.
The most problematic issue already raised, because it is hardest to explain away, is how an American entity which is tax-exempt can be funding a political campaign at all, let alone one in Israel.
IRSGATE MEETS ISRAEL
The politicization of American tax-exempt organizations was what triggered the Internal Revenue Service’s ugly Lois Lerner scandal. A significant number of politically conservative organizations which applied for tax exempt status were subject to extraordinary scrutiny and other alleged inappropriate behavior, because the claim was, because they were politically engaged, which is prohibited under the IRS regulations.
But the flat-footed targeting and punishment of organizations deemed “conservative” by the IRS was itself a politicization of the IRS process. It led to a huge outcry, congressional investigations, internal governmental investigations and lawsuits, most of which remain unresolved.
In fact, at least one pro-Israel organization which applied for tax-exempt status was given special scrutiny by the IRS which placed it in a Be on the Look Out (BOLO) category created by the IRS for “occupied territory advocacy.”
Just advocating for Israel with respect to the disputed territories triggered intensive IRS scrutiny, without the organization funding or participating in either an American or an Israeli political campaign. That’s hard to square with OneVoice having tax-exempt status, given its focus on “occupied territory advocacy.” The difference between the two entities is that OneVoice unabashedly seeks to turn over the disputed territory to the Arabs.
Young Likud party activists posted on their Facebook page instructions for filing complaints with the IRS against V15, in an effort to encourage the Service to undertake an investigation of the entity, and members of Congress are seeking an investigation by the State Department.
In addition, a complaint was filed with Israeli police against V15 and the Labor-Livni and Meretz parties, alleging violations of Israeli election law which bars campaign funding from sources outside of Israel.
V15 RESPONSE AND COUNTERCHARGE
The response by V15 to the criticisms lodged against it have been inconsistent. It was able to diffuse the State Dept. funding issue by claiming the grants ran out at the end of November, 2014. V15 was not launched until January, 2015, so, they claim, there were no State Department funds in its coffers by then.
The entity’s response to the IRS violations have been less categorical. Although it rigorously denied it is involved in the prohibited “campaigning for or against any political candidate,” statements by its alleged leadership, and the plain letter of their own posters reveal otherwise.