Republican senators demand IRS investigate sponsor of Students for Justice in Palestine

Lawmakers suggest that by directing money to organizations that have explicitly voiced support for Hamas, nonprofits are supporting terrorism

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

People gather to protest the banning of Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace at Columbia University on November 20, 2023 in New York City. (Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images via AFP)
People gather to protest the banning of Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace at Columbia University on November 20, 2023 in New York City. (Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images via AFP)

New York Jewish Week via JTA — A group of 16 Republican senators is asking the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to investigate nonprofits that support National Students for Justice in Palestine — including the group’s fiscal sponsor, the suburban New York nonprofit Wespac.

The senators’ letter to IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel, dated May 9, says the agency should investigate whether, by directing funds to NSJP, the nonprofits are supporting terrorism, which would violate their tax-exempt status.

“We should not need to remind you of the heinous support NSJP chapters across the country have voiced for Hamas, a US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization,” the letter says. “That support has exploded at NSJP chapter-led demonstrations in recent weeks.”

The recent wave of anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian campus demonstrations — many of them organized by SJP chapters — has made the investigation especially urgent, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, the letter’s lead signatory, told the New York Jewish Week. A range of Jewish groups have condemned the protests for targeting Jews with antisemitic rhetoric and creating a hostile atmosphere at schools across the country.

“The antisemitism that has popped up on college campuses coast to coast is fundamentally un-American,” Ernst said in a statement, adding, “It is clear these organizations should not receive any favors from our government to do Iran-backed Hamas’s bidding on our own shores.”

The IRS is notoriously underfunded when it comes to enforcement, making it unlikely that the call will swiftly lead to an investigation. Still, the senators’ call highlights just how closely they are scrutinizing the organizations that are known to be tied to the protest movement, which many of them have decried as antisemitic.

Other signatories included Marco Rubio of Florida, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mitt Romney, from Utah.

The letter cites a recent lawsuit filed by survivors of Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught that killed some 1,200 people, most of them civilians and saw another 252 taken hostage, which claims that NSJP collaborated with Hamas and has promoted its messaging in the months since the attack. It also refers to an existing investigation into one of the groups by Virginia’s attorney general.

The letter comes seven months after dozens of Jewish groups signed a letter in mid-October asking schools to withdraw funding for SJP due to its support for the Hamas assault. On October 12, NSJP released a “toolkit” lauding the October 7 invasion and massacre as a “historic win,” and the senators’ letter argues that in the months since, the pro-Palestinian student group has continued to promote Hamas, including at the campus protests.

Illustrative: NYU students participate in a anti-Israeli protest led by the ‘Students for Justice in Palestine’ at Washington Square Park, New York City, October 25, 2023. (Ed Jones/AFP)

Wespac and the IRS did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The other nonprofits named by the senators are the California-based Tides Foundation and Virginia’s AJP Educational Foundation. The Tides Foundation donated $35,000 to Wespac in 2022.

Wespac’s tax-exempt status allows it to support a number of pro-Palestinian groups. The organization, a small nonprofit with the stated mission of “current affairs education,” quietly facilitates funding for NSJP along with Within Our Lifetime, which has organized frequent anti-Israel street protests and also endorsed Hamas’ attack.

Wespac — which is chaired by an anti-Zionist Jew named Howard Horowitz — facilitates funding for the groups by acting as a fiscal sponsor, which allows it to receive tax-exempt donations and grants for organizations that do not have nonprofit status, including NSJP. The arrangement allows NSJP to keep its finances out of public view and doesn’t require the fiscal sponsor to detail the funding it channels to other groups.

In its most recent tax filings, covering September 2022 through August 2023, Wespac reported $2.3 million in revenue, mostly from donations and grants. It does not make its fiscal sponsorships public. The Anti-Defamation League said in a 2022 report that Wespac sponsored a total of 15 groups related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, far more than for any other cause. It is unclear how many groups it sponsors in total.

Among the other groups it sponsors are the US Palestinian Community Network, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, the Palestinian Feminist Collective, the Palestine Freedom Project, and Adalah-NY, which all collect donations through Wespac online. Wespac has sponsored NSJP since at least 2019 and Within Our Lifetime since 2020, according to archived web pages.

Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report

Most Popular
read more: