Has J Street crossed any line?
On Sept. 15, The Chronicle published an editorial, “J Street crosses the line.” I want to examine what the editorial was saying and whether J Street has in fact crossed a line.
“Should American groups that support those living in the West Bank lose their tax-exempt status because the support fosters the entrenchment of Israeli settlements and is contrary to formal American policy? Is it even American policy to oppose the settlements?’’
These are exactly the questions the editorial asks. Let’s start with the second question first, because if it is not American policy to oppose the settlements, maybe the first question is not relevant.
Is it American policy to oppose the settlements on the West Bank?
The editorial states that J Street relies on a 1979 determination by the State Department’s legal adviser that “Israeli settlements are illegal under international law’’ (and) that this is not definitive and may not be the law 37 years later. The State Department has never changed its 1979 ruling.
The United States does regard the settlements as illegal, and every administration since Carter has opposed the building of settlements, including the most recent Bush administrations and the current administration. Is a State Department ruling “definitive?” Since the West Bank is not part of the United States, we cannot have an American law about the settlements. So all we can have is a policy.
I assume the editorial writer does not want to invoke international law to support the settlements (since international law is clear about the settlements as well), so we will have to settle for our own determination and policy. If the United States is opposed to the settlements and thinks they are illegal, we can turn next to the tax exemption question. Even if American policy opposes the settlements, is this sufficient reason to revoke the tax-exempt status of organizations that send money to the settlements? That really is a decision J Street can ask the IRS to make. The IRS may or may not agree with the request. We can leave that to the IRS.
But is asking the IRS to review activity that may be contrary to U.S. policy an unreasonable request? That is all that has happened. The editorial claims this request “goes beyond debate over international law.” Why? It claims this request fails to “respect the rights of others to hold contrary views.” Nothing in what J Street has done fails to respect the rights of others to hold contrary views. It asks whether those views should be supported by a tax exemption. In fact, the editorial itself claims, “there are legitimate questions about the legality … of some settlement activity.’’ I agree. J Street thinks some of it is illegal and the editorial writer does not. J Street would be happy to apply the editorial writer’s test. If the settlements are “definitively” illegal under international law today (not 37 years ago) as determined by the IRS, the editorial writer would agree with J Street’s position. J Street only wants to put illegal activities “out of business,” something with which the editorial writer clearly agrees. We thank the editorial writer for committing to this position. In no way is J Street’s request to review the tax exemption an encroachment on the rights of others to hold contrary views. Regavim and their donors are entitled to hold political views. They just should not expect American taxpayers to support those views if they are contrary to the law and American policy.
Settlement proliferation is obstacle to viable Israel
Thank you Chronicle for the “J Street crosses the line” editorial of Sept 15), which may be giving J Street more credit for chutzpah than is due. J Street now speaks for the “silent majority” of American Jews, the 60 to 75 percent (Pew and GBA polls) who support Israel as a democratic state and want to see a territorial settlement with the Palestinians, internationally accepted boundaries and an end to the occupation. The national security establishment in Israel — IDF, Shin Bet and Mossad — agrees that the occupation is untenable long term and that a territorial settlement is high priority. “Separation into two states,” they wrote, “is essential for Israel’s security” (The New York Times, July 27).
The U.S. State Department, as your editorial indicates, has found settlements in occupied territory a violation of international law, and for 49 years, the American government has opposed them. J Street supports the privileges granted by our tax code for defined purposes, but it cannot defend their abuse in efforts to expand the settlements and forestall a two-state resolution of the conflict. Your editorial, however, suggests that any effort to restrain the flow of tax-deductible American money to settlements will have negative consequences. Israel’s national security establishment, seeking separation of the two peoples and defensible borders, cannot share that view. Nor can the “silent majority” of American Jews.
There are other voices, however, in Israel and America that support the vision of a Greater Israel, incorporating all of Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank, but they cannot explain how Israel, with 6.8 million people within the Green Line, already 20 percent Muslim, can remain Jewish and democratic if it integrates a Palestinian population of more than 4.5 million people within the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.
The current dominant but fragile Likud coalition in Israel, as a leading voice for expansion, has found itself captive politically to the settlements in occupied territory, whose population is currently estimated at more than 300,000. Yes, they vote in Israeli elections. The proliferation of settlements — there are now more than 200 — is an obstacle to an eventual territorial arrangement with the Palestinians and to a viable and enduring State of Israel.
Daniel P. Resnick
Chronicle’s editorial misses the mark
J Street’s call for an IRS investigation into groups sending tax-deductible donations to settlements is a sensible, pro-Israel policy.
Your editorial (“J Street crosses the line,” Sept. 15) got it all wrong. J Street is calling on the IRS to investigate whether certain groups in Israel should be eligible to receive tax-deductible donations because they may be doing so in violation of United States law. The question of whether groups engaged in illegal activity should receive tax-exempt contributions is entirely different from whether or not they should participate in the “marketplace of ideas.” J Street unequivocally supports an active, vibrant exchange of views.
The Chronicle also appears to be confused about U.S. tax-law. The State Department has never changed its determination that settlements are illegal. Laws do not simply change because of the passage of time.
IRS requirements are clear about the criteria that organizations must meet to benefit from tax-deductible donations. Their activities must not be “illegal or contrary to a clearly defined and established public policy.” Settlements are illegal, and opposition to them has been a clearly defined U.S. policy under every Democratic and Republican administration since the inception of the settlement project in the 1970s.
J Street is a proud member of the pro-Israel tent. We, along with Israel’s leading security experts, recognize that settlement expansion imperils Israel’s future as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people. Questioning J Street’s pro-Israel credentials is no way to engage in honest debate — which we always stand ready to welcome.
Malke Frank and Nancy Bernstein
Co-Chairs, J Street Pittsburgh