Over The Red Line?

Tea Party Patriots rally to protest the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of Tea Party and grassroots organizations. (SHAWN THEW/EPA/Newscom)

Tea Party Patriots rally to protest the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of Tea Party and grassroots organizations.
(SHAWN THEW/EPA/Newscom)

The news that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) unfairly targeted conservative groups has brought a new spotlight on a 2012 lawsuit filed by the pro-Israel group Z Street. According to Z Street Director Lori Lowenthal Marcus, the IRS singled out the organization and failed to move forward its request for 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt status because Z Street “is an organization that disagrees with the president’s policy.”

Z Street filed a lawsuit against the IRS in 2010. The suit was filed in federal court in Pennsylvania and later transferred to D.C. A judge in Washington will hear the case July 2. Most of the Tea Party groups known to have come under scrutiny applied for 501 (c)(4) status, which allows advocacy groups to avoid federal taxes on their operations budget but doesn’t render donations to the group tax deductible. Both kinds of applications are processed in the same Cincinnati office.

According to the Forward, a second Jewish group, Ameinu, a self-described progressive Zionist group, also reported that the group was red-flagged because of its connection to the Jewish state.

The Z Street case has raised some — but not many — eyebrows in the Jewish community.

Dr. Arthur C. Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said he is not alarmed. He said, “I had never heard of them. … I can’t say this was unwanted attention.”

But Lowenthal, whose group still has not obtained its nonprofit stature, is not willing to take this battle sitting down. She expressed “disappointment” at the Jewish community’s response.

“As a general matter, the Jewish community is up in arms about discrimination against other groups,” she said. “The public response for us from the organized Jewish community has been disinterest. When it has not been disinterest, it has been vicious.”

According to Lowenthal, Z Street is a “purely educational” group that works to disseminate information about Israel that one might not see in the headlines of major newspapers. From her vantage point, Z Street was red-flagged not because it does anything wrong, but on the basis of its viewpoint that “I support Jews living and breathing in Shiloh” and other neighborhoods located in Judea and Samaria.

She said the IRS rebuttal to this claim is that any organization that does business in the Middle East (inc-luding in Israel) must be red-flagged because there is a heightened risk of terrorism.

At that, Lowenthal chuckles.

“Israel is not the source of the terrorism,” she said. “Israel is the victim of terrorism. There are not Israeli terrorist groups raising money in the U.S.”

Moreover, noted Lowenthal, Z Street does not provide grants to anyone, including to Jews living in Israel.

But Abramson said he does not see an issue with red-flagging organizations with ties to Israel. He said, “Obviously, the majority of the terrorists are coming from the Arab community, but there are Jewish terrorists.”

Abramson recalled that even over a decade ago when BJC applied for 501 (c)(3) status for the Congressman Elijah Cummings Youth Program in Israel (ECYP), BJC went through what seemed an arduous process. He said tying the name of a congressman with a nonprofit raised a red flag, as did the fact that the organization contained Israel in its name.

“They questioned it. I don’t see anything of note,” Abramson said.

And he also noted that he supports the government’s right to decide if nonprofit funds should be used to support programs over the green line.

Douglas Bloomfield, a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant, said he is less worried about the fact that an organization tied to Israel was red-flagged than he is that there is such uproar that the community thinks it wrong for the IRS to do its job.

“This is not a partisan issue,” he told the JT in relation to the alleged singling out of Tea Party programs, noting that it is not an issue of perspective on Israel or anything else either.

Lowenthal said she thinks knowledge that the IRS may scrutinize one organization over another will lead the community not to trust the IRS. She said, “People [and organizations] will just sanitize their language” to get the status they want. “I know of groups that were having difficulty getting IRS approval, so they changed their names and got what they wanted.”

Bloomfield said he thinks Congress should put an end to that, too  if it is happening, and he is not confident that it is. Congress, he said, has a responsibility to make sure the IRS is properly funded to provide strong oversight to all who apply for 501 (c)(3) and (c)(4) statuses and to offer continual oversight to make sure those organizations are not abusing their power. He said the IRS “should do a full, fair and good job” of vetting each applicant to make sure it is qualified; everyone has to meet the same standards.

“Let the sunshine in,” he said. “Sunshine has the greatest healing/curative power. We need to know who, how much, for what.”

Comments

  1. J.H. Wilcox says

    When it comes to falsification and misrepresentation, Morton Klein runs neck and neck with Baltimore’s own Richard Vatz. (See my March 23 JT letter “Vulgar Bullying.”)
    One thing that both individuals have in common is their adoration of (right-wing) Holocaust trivializers: in Klein’s case, Glenn Beck, and in Vatz’s case, Ron Smith.

  2. Sander G. says

    Here is the most recent example of Klein/ZOA’s rhetorical deceit, in the form of the deliberate mischaracterization and falsification of an opponent’s arguments.

    subject: Klein’s 19 June letter in the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent.

    a. Klein claims that an Exponent letter(A) of a ZOA critic said that the organization “won’t accept compromises.” In point of fact, (A) never broached the subject in his June 13 letter, but simply highlighted the ZOA’s pro-settler stance and support for a one-state agenda. Klein intentionally put words in the mouth of the critic which the latter never wrote. In other words, he outright LIED.

    b. More tellingly, Klein insisted that Sheldon Adelson’s tax write-off charitable contributions demonstrated the latter’s “mainstream,” centrist – i.e., NOT right-wing- bent. But (A)’s actual statement was that when it comes to “POLITICAL contributions,” Mr. Adelson “funds right–wing causes exclusively.” Which is 100% accurate. Charity does not enter into this equation, one way or the other.
    Such double-dealing and blatant prevarication by Klein/ZOA must cease. When it comes to rallying support behind Israel in these trying times of widespread anti-Semitism, in the words of the hyperbolic gastroenterologist, “With friends like these, who needs enemas?”

  3. Hayim Goldberg says

    Kudos to Mr./Ms. Auerbach for the lovely, fact-filled posting exposing Mort Klein’s tyrannical control over the ZOA.

    Therefore, let’s be clear: Mrs. Marcus’ use of the term “education” is similar to that employed by the DPRK (North Korea): that is, propagation of ideology-driven propaganda- which in this case means in support of a pro-settler, Greater Israel, one-state agenda (which, btw,is contrary to U.S. policy and the will of a majority of Israelis).

    OK. That is their prerogative. But why should that be funded by the U.S. taxpayer- i.e., given tax-exempt status?

  4. S.Z. Auerbach says

    As Saul Edelman noted in his letter, Z Street- and Mrs. Marcus- is a surrogate/ satellite/sock puppet of the ZOA.
    What we know about the ZOA:
    Morton Klein took control of the ZOA via a ballot-stuffing putsch (ousting Baltimorean Jim Schiller). Once in office, he proceeded to upend the organization’s charter’s two-term limit for the presidency, effectively making him president-for-life. He subsequently transformed the organization into his very own personality cult, brooking no dissent.

    Think about it: Iran’s last presidential election – in which numerous candidates ran, with the surprise winner being the so-called “moderate”- was more genuinely democratic than any of those held by the ZOA since Klein took over 20 years ago, because he has made sure to always run unopposed.

    For heaven’s sake, even Yasser ‘Arafat had other candidates to run against in his last campaign to be head of the Palestinian Authority!

    Also, we are talking Jews here: you know, three people , five different opinions- except NEVER in the ZOA.

    There is also a personal integrity issue. Klein makes much of the fact that he was born in a DP camp in Germany. At the ZOA’s last annual dinner in 2011, it feted Glenn Beck (so much for the ZOA’s ‘centrism’). According to the JTA’s coverage of that event: “Asked about the discomfort some feel with Beck’s repeated use of Holocaust analogies, ZOA president Mort Klein, a child of survivors who was born in a German displaced persons camp, claimed ignorance, saying he didn’t watch Beck’s show often enough to have an opinion..”

    Let’s get this straight: Klein is familiar enough with Beck- i.e., he watches his show enough- to feel comfortable having the ZOA honor Beck, but not enough to comment upon Beck’s obsession with Holocaust comparisons (an obsession which is tantamount to Holocaust trivialization) ? This is not the least bit credible.

    (Of course, if the shoe were on the other foot, and it was a TV liberal who was invoking the Holocaust at the drop of a hat, Klein would quickly exercise “due diligence” in watching the program for himself and then spare no effort in excoriating them!)

    Anyway, all of this goes way beyond mere ‘spin’. Clearly, nowadays it has reached the point that, for Klein, even the Holocaust has become just another political bargaining chip. And Mrs. Marcus,alas, is his stecken.

    Look at it this way: under Mort Klein, the ZOA has become a cult, just like Ron Hubbard’s Scientology.

  5. Lori Lowenthal Marcus says

    So sadly, Arthur C. Abramson proves several of the points I made to the author of this piece. (1) tax law and constitutional law are complicated issues which most people don’t understand – Abramson proves that point by conflating what the IRS is alleged to be doing with what it (and other parts of the government) are legally permitted to do. (2) even people who don’t understand tax law and constitutional law are still willing to comment about a matter that involves both, and even when it proves they are ignorant of the law and don’t really care about the facts, if it means they can be quoted in a newspaper. (3) What passes for Jewish leadership in so many places, as Abramson proves here, is more interested in sounding firmly anti-“right wing” on Israel than they are about what is true and what is best for klal Yisrael. Dr. Abramson, I’d be willing to explain the intricacies of the situation to you if you have any interest in being educated. But briefly: you may not have ever heard of Z STREET, and if you haven’t, that says more about you than it does about Z STREET, but the fact that the IRS suspended the organization’s application after our lawsuit was filed nearly 3 years ago, and more than 3 and a half years after we filed for 501(c)(3) status may certainly be why you haven’t heard of it – we’ve been in limbo precisely because the IRS discriminated against our organization. To be very clear: Z STREET is/was a purely education organization which never made any donations to anything, anywhere – it is about ideas, and that is something the Constitution of the United States forbids the government from taking into consideration when making decisions such as whether or not an organization is eligible for tax exempt status. Shame on you. And just for kicks, you might want to educate yourself about a further FACT Mr. Abramson: the IRS just released documents, via the House Ways and Means Committee, that shows – in their own words, in their own documents – that they categorized groups by “occupied territory advocacy.” That is about as clear as possible that the IRS engaged in viewpoint discrimination. It’s very sad that you don’t care about that, but that says more about you than it does about Z STREET or any other organization against which the government has discriminated. Douglas Bloomfield’s ignorance about the facts and the law are of less concern because at least he doesn’t hold himself out as a leader of a Jewish community. Ignorant columnists are a dime a dozen and do not present any real harm to klal Yisrael. If, however, facts matter to him, Bloomfield might also want to educate himself about the actual details of the issue. The Treasury Department’s Inspector General whose job it was to determine whether there was political, partisan discrimination by the IRS concluded that there was. His mandate was with respect to the Tea Party and other politically conservative groups. Z STREET is neither political nor conservative, it is a pro-Israel, Zionist organization whose mission is education.proves they are ignorant of the law and don’t really care about the facts, if it means they can be quoted in a newspaper. (3) What passes for Jewish leadership in so many places, as Abramson proves here, is more interested in sounding firmly anti-“right wing” on Israel than they are about what is true and what is best for klal Yisrael. Dr. Abramson, I’d be willing to explain the intricacies of the situation to you if you have any interest in being educated. But briefly: you may not have ever heard of Z STREET, and if you haven’t, that says more about you than it does about Z STREET, but the fact that the IRS suspended the organization’s application after our lawsuit was filed nearly 3 years ago, and more than 3 and a half years after we filed for 501(c)(3) status may certainly be why you haven’t heard of it – we’ve been in limbo precisely because the IRS discriminated against our organization. To be very clear: Z STREET is/was a purely education organization which never made any donations to anything, anywhere – it is about ideas, and that is something the Constitution of the United States forbids the government from taking into consideration when making decisions such as whether or not an organization is eligible for tax exempt status. Shame on you. And just for kicks, you might want to educate yourself about a further FACT Mr. Abramson: the IRS just released documents, via the House Ways and Means Committee, that shows – in their own words, in their own documents – that they categorized groups by “occupied territory advocacy.” That is about as clear as possible that the IRS engaged in viewpoint discrimination. It’s very sad that you don’t care about that, but that says more about you than it does about Z STREET or any other organization against which the government has discriminated. Douglas Bloomfield’s ignorance about the facts and the law are of less concern because at least he doesn’t hold himself out as a leader of a Jewish community. Ignorant columnists are a dime a dozen and do not present any real harm to klal Yisrael. If, however, facts matter to him, Bloomfield might also want to educate himself about the actual details of the issue. The Treasury Department’s Inspector General whose job it was to determine whether there was political, partisan discrimination by the IRS concluded that there was. His mandate was with respect to the Tea Party and other politically conservative groups. Z STREET is neither political nor conservative, it is a pro-Israel, Zionist organization whose mission is education.

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