US sued over tax-exempt donations for illegal Israeli settlements

by Charlotte Silver, Electronic Intifada,

star Jason Alexander with Israeli Staff Sergeant Elle Shmuel, a combat
soldier during Israel’s summer 2014 attack on Gaza. The pair were at a
November 2014 fundraiser in Los Angeles hosted by Friends of the IDF, a
US nonprofit organization named in a lawsuit against the US Treasury.
(via Facebook)

group of American citizens is suing the US Treasury because they say
the agency is allowing billions of dollars of tax-exempt charitable
donations to flow to the Israeli army and support the expansion of
illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Washington, DC, on 21 December, alleges
that around 150 US nonprofit organizations send about $1 billion a year
“to fund the forcible expulsion of all non-Jews” and expand settlements
in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Martin McMahon, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, told The Electronic
Intifada that he believes the organizations are violating eight federal
criminal statutes and up to six Treasury regulations.

Criminal activities

The lawsuit seeks a court order to compel the Treasury to investigate
the alleged criminal activities, revoke the tax-exempt status of the
organizations and recover hundreds of millions of dollars in back taxes.

One of the three plaintiffs is Palestinian American author Susan Abulhawa.
“I want a court, somewhere, somehow, to hold accountable those who have
financed my pain of dispossession and exile; to hold accountable the
financiers of Israel’s wholesale theft of another people’s historic,
material, spiritual and emotional presence in the world,” Abulhawa says
in a statement included in the complaint.

The exact amount that US charities send to settlements is unknown
because tax regulations were amended in 2008 so that organizations no
longer have to specify what country is receiving funds, only a general
geographic region.

The US Internal Revenue Service has granted these organizations
tax-exempt status, which allows US taxpayers to deduct donations they
make to them from their taxable income. The organizations also do not
have to pay taxes on the income they receive.


By law, tax-exempt status is granted only to organizations that engage in “charitable” activities.

These include the relief of poverty, the advancement of science,
education and religion, lessening the burdens on government,
“eliminating prejudice and discrimination” and “defending human and
civil rights secured by law.”

The lawsuit accuses the Treasury, of which the Internal Revenue
Service is a part, of “turning a blind eye” to the “rampant criminal
activity” that US tax-exempt organizations are promoting overseas by
funneling charitable contributions to Israeli settlements.

Israeli settlement of Avnei Hefetz near the Palestinian village of
Shufa in the occupied West Bank. A lawsuit is challenging the US
government for allowing charitable funds to flow to such settlements
that are built in violation of international law.

Ahmad Al-Bazz

that the US government declared that the settlements were illegal under
international law as far back as 1980, the lawsuit claims that the
colonization effort would have been abandoned decades ago were it were
it not for the subsidies from the US.

“For 30 years at least, the US taxpayer has been funding and/or
subsidizing criminal activity overseas, i.e., murder, arson, malicious
property destruction, assault and battery and ethnic cleansing,” the
lawsuit states.

Military gear

The lawsuit names businessmen Sheldon Adelson and Irving Moskowitz, as well as Christians United for Israel founder John Hagee, as examples of donors who have sent millions of dollars in charitable funds to support settlements.

According to the complaint, their objective is the “wholesale ethnic
cleansing of the Palestinian population and explosive settlement growth
to accommodate the needs of the ever-growing settler population.”
“They don’t want to just fund settlements but they want the American
taxpayers to subsidize their political agenda,” plaintiffs’ lawyer
Martin McMahon told The Electronic Intifada.

The lawsuit claims that the organizations have helped demolish or
confiscate 49,000 Palestinian homes over the last 30 years and forcibly
expel 400,000 to 500,000 Palestinians since 1967.

The lawsuit says that the Israeli army received $60 million in a single month from the tax-exempt US charity Friends of the IDF.

Tax-exempt donations have been used to purchase military gear,
including night-vision goggles, sniper scopes and guard dogs for Israeli
settlers as well as to set up “sniper schools.”

Friends of the IDF holds fundraisers all over the United States, often with the endorsement of celebrities including singer Barbra Streisand, Seinfeld star Jason Alexander and film actor Antonio Banderas, or politicians such as US Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois.

Other tax-exempt entities identified in the complaint are the Jewish National Fund, the Falic Family Foundation, American Friends of Ariel, Gush Etzion Foundation, American Friends of Har Homa and the Hebron Fund – many organizations reflect the names of the settlements they finance.

The complaint also alleges that US tax-exempt organizations are funding the ongoing dispossession of Bedouins in the Naqab (Negev) region in the south of present-day Israel.

Several corporations hired by the tax-exempt organizations are also
named in the lawsuit. They include multinational prison and security
firm G4S, information technology company Hewlett Packard, real estate seller Re/MAX and settlement builder Africa Israel Investments.

Clear standards

The role of US charities in funding the illegal Israeli colonization
of Palestinian land has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years.
In 2013, a group of Palestinians tried to sue several US charities
funding settlement activity under anti-terrorism laws, but the complaint
was thrown out.

In early 2015, the group resubmitted a petition against five US-based organizations.

McMahon said the plaintiffs in this case chose to sue the US Treasury
because the agency has clear standards in place to enforce.

He said that before pursuing litigation he wrote letters to the
Treasury, asking them to investigate the organizations in question. His
firm is working without fees on the lawsuit and is looking for more

Since filing the complaint last month, he says more than 50 people have contacted him with an interest to join.
The US Treasury, which has not commented on the litigation, has 60 days to respond to the lawsuit.

The State Department affirmed in an email to Al Jazeera
that the administration of President Barack Obama, “like every
administration before it since 1967, views settlement activity as
illegitimate and counterproductive to the cause of peace.”
The plaintiffs want the US government’s actions to match its words.