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7 Dems urge US Treasury to review tax-exempt status of pro-settlement charities

Progressive House members express concern that providing benefits to groups that operate in settlements and in East Jerusalem violates ‘US obligations under international law’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) (C) confers with U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, (D-MI) (2nd R) and Rep. Ayanna S. Pressley (D-MA) (R) during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing July 12, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) (C) confers with U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, (D-MI) (2nd R) and Rep. Ayanna S. Pressley (D-MA) (R) during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing July 12, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)

Seven progressive Democrats are calling on US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to review whether it is necessary to revoke the tax-exempt status of American charities that support Israeli settlements.

In a letter to Yellen penned late last month, Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush, André Carson, Mark Pocan, Ayanna Pressley and Betty McCollum expressed their “extreme concern that US charities are funding and providing direct support to Israeli organizations that are working to expand and perpetuate Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise in violation of international law, including supporting the dispossession and forced displacement of Palestinians from occupied East Jerusalem neighborhoods.”

The letter was written two days after ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s announced its decision to cease the sale of its products in the settlements, as efforts by progressives to curb Israeli activity beyond the Green Line appeared to snowball.

“Granting and sustaining 501(c)(3) status recognizes and supports this unlawful conduct that is contrary to existing US obligations under international law and established US public policy,” the lawmakers wrote, adding that failing to crack down on the matter allows charities and their US-based donors “to receive an effective subsidy from the US government to support serious breaches of international law.”

Tlaib publicized the letter in a tweet that also called on Yellen to “act to enforce US law and end these organizations’ status.”

“Tax-exempt nonprofit status allows US-based 501(c)(3) entities and their US-based donors to receive an effective subsidy from the US government to support serious breaches of international law and violations of internationally recognized human rights related to the expansion of the illegal Israeli settlement enterprise.”

The letter highlighted several charities whose status the lawmakers urged Yellen to review.

It placed a particular focus on Central Fund of Israel, which funds hundreds of projects in Israel, including ones in the settlements. “[Its] grantees include settler organizations whose mission is to identify and ‘redeem’ land from Palestinians, organizations that support the erection of new structures and projects to develop new settlements and expand existing ones.”

CFI director Jay Marcus told The Times of Israel that the effort by the progressive Democrats is “outrageous and pure antisemitism.”

“Their goal is clearly not just to shut down the Central Fund, but all organizations that we fund,” he said, adding that he plans to reach out to Yellen to make his case against the claims in the letter.

Other organizations named in the letter were American Friends of Bet El Yeshiva Center, which was headed by David Friedman before he became former US president Donald Trump’s ambassador to Israel.

The lawmakers called on Yellen to institute a policy regarding the nonprofit status of charities that donate to Israeli causes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and submit a report to Congress identifying all American charities operating in any occupied territory around the world.

Israel rejects the claim that it occupies the territories capture in the 1967 Six Day War. It views the West Bank as disputed and East Jerusalem, which it annexed, as part and parcel of its capital.

The US in 2019 revoked a State Department legal opinion that deemed settlements to be illegal. Progressive pro-Israel groups have called on US President Joe Biden to reinstate the position shelved by the Trump administration.

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