Once again the alleged politicization of the Internal Revenue Service under the current U.S. administration is in the news.
Most of the attention, certainly by those in Washington, D.C., has been on politically conservative organizations such as Tea Party groups, which claim discriminatory treatment at the hands of the IRS. However, a certain and very specific slice of pro-Israel non-profit organizations have also claimed victimization at the hands of the IRS.
On Wednesday, February 26, legal representatives for HaYovel, filed several Freedom of Information Act requests. HaYovel is a Nashville-based tax-exempt organization which provides volunteers to work in Jewish-owned vineyards in Judea and Samaria.
The FOIA requests were directed to the IRS, the Treasury Department and the State Department, and seek information relating to an oddly-timed and allegedly politically motivated audit by the IRS. The audit came in December, 2010, a few months after the organization was featured prominently in a July 5, 2010 New York Times article titled Tax-Exempt Funds Aid Settlements in West Bank.
The FOIA requests seek to determine whether there is a connection between the New York Times article, the current administration’s policies with regard to Israel’s settlements in the West Bank, and the 2010 HaYovel audit. There were four other non-profit, tax-exempt pro-Israel organizations which claim to also have received surprising audits shortly after the New York Times article raised the issue of whether U.S. charities which support entities beyond the 1949 Armistice Line (the so-called Green Line) should be entitled to tax-exempt status. The other four have refused to be publicly identified for fear of further alleged retribution by the IRS.
Those five pro-Israel organizations which were subject to allegedly maliciously-motivated audits, and a sixth one, which experienced a different form of treatment it claims violated its constitutional rights, are pro-Israel organizations which recognize and support Jews living in Judea and Samaria, popularly referred to as the “West Bank.”
Unlike many other pro-Israel organizations, and nearly all pro-Palestinian Arab organizations, those six support the right of all people to live in that territory, whether Jewish, Muslim or Christian. And that is the reason the New York Times article was critical of the organizations it named, and similarly situated ones.
The sixth pro-Israel organization which claimed discriminatory treatment by the IRS is Z STREET.* That organization is in a different situation than the others. That is because, as a brand new organization, it had only filed for tax-exempt status with the IRS in December, 2009, and its file was just being reviewed by the IRS agent to whom its file had been assigned, when the July, 2010 New York Times article was published.
Of course the New York Times is not empowered to direct activity by any branch of government, but pundits and others wondered whether the article did influence IRS activity.
Z STREET brought a lawsuit against the IRS in August of 2010, seeking to find out why its application was given “special scrutiny,” and to have the court order that its tax-exempt application be given a constitutionally untainted review.
It is the request for mandated action by the IRS (an untainted review of its request for tax exemption) that prevents a FOIA request from granting relief to Z STREET, unlike the other groups which already had received tax-exempt status.
The law firms which filed the FOIA requests for HaYovel are the Liberty Institute and the Washington, D.C. law firm Bancroft PLLC.
*The author of this article founded and was the president of Z STREET.