'Special Policy' demands: 'Does your organization support existence of Israel?'
Published: 12/01/2010 at 1:00 AM
An attorney for an educational organization called Z Street says there’s now evidence Internal Revenue Service agents under the direction of the Obama administration intentionally are targeting the free speech and religious rights of American Jews.
WND reported only weeks ago when the IRS delayed approval of a tax-exempt status for a private organization and was reviewing its educational work after explaining it must be examined by Washington because its activities may “contradict the administration’s public policies.”
That allegation was contained in a federal lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by Z Street, a Merion Station, Pa., group that educates on the statehood and status of Israel.
Find out what happens when the government strays, in “Constitutional Chaos: What Happens When the Government Breaks Its Own Laws”
Now Jerome M. Marcus, an attorney for Z Street, has revealed to WND that additional documents have been found demonstrating how the IRS has moved “beyond the pale” by cracking down on education groups that focus on Israel.
Marcus, of the firm Marcus & Auerbach in suburban Philadelphia, said such “viewpoint discrimination” is a violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
He said the government isn’t allowed to weigh the religious viewpoints of educational organizations when deciding whether to grant them tax exempt status under federal charity laws.
Marcus has filed a memorandum opposing the government’s motion to dismiss the case and it includes new evidence: a letter sent to another Jewish organization which raised questions about political beliefs similar to those that were asked of Z Street.
The brief, which has been posted online, challenges the IRS’ motives and methods.
“This shows that what happened to my client was not anomalous, not just an agent [IRS agent Diane Gentry] who didn’t understand that Z Street was an educational organization,” Marcus told WND. “This information indicates that this is a policy that the IRS is pursuing. It is not an appropriate inquiry asking about someone’s religious beliefs or political beliefs.”
A hearing may be held in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia to probe the questions raised by the evidence, Marcus said.
“That should be interesting,” he said.
The IRS did not comment on the matter. A spokeswoman in the Washington, D.C., office referred a journalist to the agency’s Philadelphia contact and the contact there told WND he could not comment.
Marcus said the IRS had an initial deadline this week to respond to last week’s filing for Z Street, but asked for an extension of the deadline due to the Thanksgiving holiday and Z Street agreed.
In his brief, Marcus details the “wildly improper” questioning by the IRS of yet another Jewish organization.
Marcus wrote: “As detailed in the Declaration of Jerome M. Marcus, Z STREET’s counsel in this case, after the instant Complaint was filed, Plaintiff learned that another organization – this one simply Jewish and without any publicly stated positions on political issues affecting the State of Israel – applied for a charitable exemption. While the application was pending, its representative received a letter from the IRS, all but the first page of which appears as Exhibit 1 to Mr. Marcus’s declaration. The letter, sent not by Agent Gentry, who was handling Plaintiff’s application, but by a different IRS agent, inquires of the applicant: ‘Does your organization support the existence of the land of Israel?
Describe your organization’s religious belief system towards the land of Israel.’”
Marcus continued, “Can one imagine that an application for tax exemption could – constitutionally – be affected in any conceivable way by the answer to these questions?”
In his brief last week, Marcus also noted that the fact the answers are being demanded makes it clear beyond doubt that IRS officials have taken the time to determine that this is a useful line of inquiry; have obtained approval for this conclusion; disseminated this conclusion to agents processing applications for 501(c)(3) exemption; drafted questions designed to ferret out the answers the government needs to apply this policy; and then spent more time posing the questions, and then weighing their significance to determine the answers’ impact on whether exemptions from tax should be granted.
‘Israel Special Policy’
The IRS is executing its “Israel Special Policy” which agent Gentry informed Marcus about orally during talks about the non-profit application before the case was filed, Marcus said, noting that IRS has also established a “special unit” in its offices in Washington, D.C., to examine Jewish groups that may advocate policies contrary to those espoused by Barack Hussein Obama.
“This is not an appropriate inquiry – what are your religious beliefs,” Marcus told WND. “As long as one’s beliefs are factually based, IRS has no business questioning them. Inquiring into the substance of one’s political beliefs is beyond the pale. It’s pure viewpoint discrimination and a violation of the First Amendment.”
Lori Lowenthal-Marcus, founder of Z Street, said in an interview that the group was formally organized during the summer of 2009, and applied for charitable tax exempt status from IRS last fall. The IRS’ delay in granting 501c3 status has “damaged” the fundraising of the group, as large donors usually want to have their donations be tax deductible.
“We have no problem getting membership fees, which are $18,” Lowenthal-Marcus told WND. “But those are small donations. People don’t worry about tax deductions for small donations.”
Lowenthal-Marcus said that other Jewish groups are starting to acknowledge viewpoint discrimination as well in postings online, including a posting by a man identifying himself as a “CPA” on the blog Isra-Pundit on Nov. 28, 2010.
The poster stated, “IRS policy has completely changed regarding Jewish organizations. We see with every inquiry. It is scary. We had a case that was verbally approved by a given agent. And then pulled away for additional questions.”
Even tax law professors are outraged, according to a posting on the blog for tax lawyer and professors which asks the question, “is failure to support Obama administration’s foreign policy grounds to deny tax exempt status?”
Said Lowenthal-Marcus: “Other people are starting to come out of the woodwork. The same thing is happening to them.”
She told WND earlier the organization has met all of the requirements to be granted tax-exempt status. But the approval was delayed because of a “Special Israel Policy that requires greater scrutiny of organizations which have to do with Israel, in part to determine whether they espouse positions on Israel contrary to those of the current administration.”
"Jews! Line up to turn in your tax forms to the right!"