Photo Credit: MPAC National
Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D- Michigan)

A group of five Democrats in the US House of Representatives – led by pro-Palestinian “Squad” Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) of New York – have called on the Treasury Department to end the tax-exempt status of American organizations that support Israeli Jewish community development in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.

A letter sent by Tlaib to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen a week ago specifically aims at “Jewish Israelis” and “urgently requests” that Yellen review the tax-exempt status of American organizations that provide support to Israel in post-1967 areas of Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.

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“The United States government, as a party to the Fourth Geneva Convention and under customary international law, has a duty to not encourage or recognize violations of international humanitarian law. The United States government’s obligation prohibits not only explicit recognition of an illegal situation but also extends to actions that would simply imply recognition,” she argued.

Tlaib went on to claim in her letter that the Central Fund of Israel, registered in New York, “The Central Fund of Israel . . . is among several US-based groups fueling the dispossession and displacement of Palestinians to make way for Jewish Israeli settlers. The groups’ tax-exempt nonprofit status means their donors receive a form of valuable support for the US government in their efforts to bolster the settler movement.

“For example, recent reporting shows that CFI provided funding for nearly the entire budget of the Israel Land Fund (ILF), an organization that is a driving force behind the forced evictions of Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem,” she wrote.

“More broadly, CFI has distributed at least $75 million in funding since 2015 and it’s (Tlaib’s error) grantees are notable for their essential role in supporting and enabling the illegal Israeli settlement enterprise, including international crimes such as forcible transfer, the unlawful appropriation and destruction of property, and Israel’s discriminatory military and housing, land, and property legal regimes, among other violations. The grantees include settler organizations whose mission is to identify and “redeem” land from Palestinians (the Israeli settlement movement’s term for transferring land from Palestinian possession to Jewish possession); organizations that support the erection of new structures and projects to develop new settlements and expand existing ones, or that develop activities for the purpose of preventing the Palestinian population from accessing properties or land for farming or for other purposes, and organizations that facilitate the Israeli authorities’ unlawful appropriation of Palestinian property,” Tlaib continued.

“From 2009 to 2013, US charities reportedly funneled over $220 million to Israeli settler organizations, according to a 2015 Haaretz investigation,” she wrote. “These organizations include American Friends of Beit El, a foundation headed by former US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman that raised tens of millions of dollars for one of the most prominent, illegal settlements in the West Bank, extreme far-right groups like Qomemiyut, which advocated for the destruction of Gaza, the Hebron Fund, which is dedicated to supporting Israeli settlers and soldiers in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron by “keeping Hebron in Jewish Hands” and strengthening the security apparatus of Settlements, and likely hundreds of other organizations fueling the displacement of Palestinians,” she wrote.

“We are seriously concerned that conferring the benefit of 501( c)(3) status to these entities is in violation of the United States government’s international law obligations to not explicitly or implicitly recognize violations of international humanitarian law or peremptory norms.

“As systemic discrimination inherit in Israeli government policies denying basic human rights to all Palestinians under its control are increasingly recognized as so severe that they amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution,” Tlaib claimed. “As such, we urgently request that the Department of the Treasury take all necessary measures to increase scrutiny and due diligence on organizations such as CFI (Central Fund of Israel) to ensure that no US-based entitles receive the benefit of 501(c )(3) tax-exempt status where there is credible information their actions are supporting violations of international law.”

And on, and on, ad nauseum.

In response, media analyst and educator Yisrael Medad, a Jewish resident of Samaria, responded with a pointed query: “Don’t you know that Jewish residential communities in Judea & Samaria are not illegal? That the League of Nations guaranteed Jews the right of “close settlement” on those lands?

In September 2017 then-US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, a licensed attorney, said in an interview on the Walla!News website that Israeli Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria are legally part of Israel.

“I think that was always the expectation,” Friedman said. “When Resolution 242 was adopted in 1967, it was and remains today the only substantive resolution that was agreed to by everybody. . . the idea was that Israel would be entitled to secure borders. . .The 1967 borders were viewed by everybody as not secure. . .So Israel would retain a meaningful portion of the West Bank, and it would return that which it didn’t need for peace and security.

“There was always supposed to be some notion of expansion into the West Bank, but not necessarily expansion into the entire West Bank; and I think that’s exactly what Israel has done,” he said, adding, “they’re only occupying two percent of the West Bank. . .I think the settlers view themselves as Israelis, and Israel views the settlers as Israelis.”

About two years later, in November 2019, under President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that it did not view Israeli communities in the “West Bank” as illegal. The announcement constituted an historic reversal of US policy.

As regards any part of Jerusalem, President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital city of the State of Israel early in his term. Shortly thereafter, he announced the US Embassy would move from Tel Aviv to the Israeli capital, Jerusalem.

But Trump was only carrying out the instructions of an American law that had already been on the books for more than 20 years – the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act – although up to that point it had not been enforced, despite having passed with an overwhelming majority in both Houses of Congress.

Incumbent President Joe Biden has since said that he will keep the US Embassy in Jerusalem, although his administration also plans to reopen the former US Consulate in Jerusalem as a sort of second embassy to citizens of the Palestinian Authority, and local Arabs.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.