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sábado, 3 de febrero de 2018

Report: Barack Obama weaponized the IRS against pro-Israel groups

According to a Thursday op-ed from The Wall Street Journal, the Barack Obama administration weaponized the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to take down pro-Israel groups during the former president’s tenure in office.

The editorial was written by self-proclaimed Zionist and former lawyer Lori Lowenthal Marcus, who founded an organization known as Z Street in 2009 “to educate Americans about the Middle East and Israel’s defense against terror.” But when she experienced trouble obtaining tax-exempt status from the IRS, Z Street filed suit against the agency.

The Department of Justice announced Thursday that it had entered into a settlement agreement with the nonprofit, but that only tells part of the story. Marcus told the rest.

Application languished

Marcus said that she applied for tax-exempt statue in December 2009, “a process that usually takes three to six months.” But like the applications filed by fellow conservative groups, hers took much longer.

When Z Street lawyers asked what the holdup was, an IRS agent was uncharacteristically honest. Marcus wrote:

Z Street’s application was getting special scrutiny, the agent said, because it was related to Israel. Some applications for tax-exempt status were being sent to a special office in Washington for review of whether the applicants’ policy positions conflicted with those of the Obama administration.

So in August 2010 we sued the IRS for violating Z Street’s constitutional rights, including the First Amendment right to be free from viewpoint discrimination — government treatment that differs depending on one’s political position.

After filing its lawsuit, Z Street went through the legal process known as discovery, which includes interrogatories, depositions, and requests for admissions.

What the lawyers learned was eye-opening:

  • “Our application was flagged because Z Street’s mission related to Israel, a country with terrorism. Therefore, an IRS manager in our case said in sworn testimony, the IRS needed to investigate whether Z Street was funding terror.
  • Some applications for tax-exempt status were indeed being sent to IRS headquarters in Washington for more intense scrutiny. They were selected because of the applicants’ viewpoint.
  • In August 2010, three other Jewish organizations applying for tax-exempt status were asked by the IRS to ‘explain their religious beliefs about the Land of Israel.'”

There goes the First Amendment freedoms of speech and religion — right out the window.

Anti-Semitism the Obama way

Although Z Street prevailed in the end, it paid a heavy price. Marcus wrote:

To learn the truth, we fought in the courts for seven lonely years — defeating IRS arguments that it didn’t have to obey the First Amendment, that it was immune from the suit, and that it wasn’t obliged to produce in discovery any documents revealing why its employees did what they did. During the seven years Z Street’s application was frozen, it couldn’t raise funds. If my husband and I weren’t lawyers, able to pursue justice without getting paid, there’s no way we could have succeeded.

The IRS’s targeting of Z Street wasn’t the only anti-Israeli move the Obama administration made. In 2016, the Obama State Department used $350,000 in taxpayer funds to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In contrast, President Donald Trump promised to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s historic and rightful capital of Jerusalem.

Final settlement between the Department of Justice and Z Street was announced on Thursday. According to the department, “the settlement agreement includes an apology from the IRS to Z Street for the delayed processing of the group’s application for tax-exempt status.”

“Tax exemption eligibility should be based on whether an organization’s activities fulfill requirements of the law, not a group’s policy positions or the name chosen to reflect those views,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Zuckerman said of the settlement.

“The attorneys at the Department of Justice work hard to ensure that all Americans receive equal treatment under the law,” Zuckerman added. “Today’s settlement further illustrates this commitment.”