Weird Times on Tax Exemptions for Israeli Settlements

New Orleans        I was in Mexico City reading the Times on-line and, frankly, didn’t trust what I was reading completely until I could have the paper in my hot hands, but it’s still a strange and weird article printed on 7/6/10 entitled:  “U.S. Gives Tax Breaks for Donations to Aid Settlements in the West Bank” and “Tax-Exempt Funds Aiding Settlements in West Bank:  U.S. Gives Tax Breaks for Donations That Help to Sustain Efforts it Opposes.”  The article ran in the prime real estate on the front page, right column at the top of the fold.  Tax-Exempt Funds Aid Settlements in West Bank by Jim Rutenberg, Mike McIntire, and Ethan Bronner.

The bottom line of the article, which ran more than two full pages seems to have been that over the last 10 years groups with 501c3 tax exemptions from the IRS have given more than $200,000,000 with such tax benefits to support Israeli squatting settlements on land where they are forbidden and that should tax privileges interfere with announced U.S. foreign policy objectives for a two-state solution support both Israel’s nationhood and a Palestinian state as well.

This all seems more like an editorial position than a fact based news article.  Furthermore, there was obviously a lot of time and money spent doing the research and driving us to a position that somehow there was something very wrong about people getting tax breaks for something that was contrary to US policy.  That’s what leaves me very, very uncomfortable and scratching my head.

My personal position is independent here.  I’m totally fine with a two-state solution, and believe it is long, long past due, and that and 3 pesos will buy you a ticket for the Metro in Mexico City for all anyone might care.  I’m also very, very good with creating a fairer tax code that didn’t allow the rich to hide so much money in foundations and other dodging schemes rather than allowing us to have more revenues to achieve citizen wealth and greater equality in the United States.  Stone me now!

But, the notion that it is front page news or somehow a scandalous problem that under existing rules and regulations someone or something would get a tax exemption opposing US policy is wildly wrongheaded, politically dangerous, and deeply disturbing on almost any reckoning of free speech and associations.  Here the Times allowed fuzzy waffling to take the place of almost any reasoned argument for the point of whatever point they were straining so hard to make.  It was not until a quarter through this long, long piece that the authors finally get around to saying:  “…the tax code encourages citizens to support nonprofit groups that may diverge from official policy, as long as their missions are educational, religious, or charitable.”  Ok, so what’s the beef then, fellas?

Then the witch hunt begins.  First they raise they infer there may be too many nonprofits, almost a million.  So much for the classic de Tocqueville argument!  Second, they testily concede that in their review of various settler supporting groups “most generally live within the rules of the American tax code” but both the way they say it and the rest of what they have to say seems to rip this veil apart as quickly as they looked around it.  Within sentences they are zinging one group for violating the code by making a donation that seemed political, and in another couple we are wallowing in Jack Abramoff land with other disgraced lobbyists and money runners.
And, the rest follows in this vein.

What’s up here?  My guess it is the Times simply reaching.  The Israeli Prime Minister was due to visit President Obama, and these boys wanted to seem to have some news on the eve of the arrival.  So, they grabbed a couple of threads and tried to weave a coat, even though in doing so they mangled and besmirched both their point and a lot about what constitutes philanthropy and nonprofit work with this broad brush.

If the Times wants to make a strong case for a two-state solution, then hear, hear and put it on the editorial page without trying to throw out the baby (the right to oppose government policy) with the bathwater (the scofflaws that may be abusing the tax code).  Is that too much to ask?

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