Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Peace Now and J Street should join the battle against tax breaks for the West Bank colonists

In a sign that the discourse is changing and taboo subjects are coming inside, The Atlantic considers the case for ending the special relationship of US and Israel, and picks up an important piece in the Guardian by Andrew Kadi and Aaron Levitt about the U.S. tax subsidies extended to the Hebron colonists. Kadi and Levitt focus on the Hebron Fund’s fundraiser at the Mets ballpark last month:

"Until the public, advocacy groups, media and the US government scrutinise and rein in settlement non-profits like the Hebron Fund, policy statements about peace in the Middle East will do nothing to stop the daily violence and dispossession suffered by Palestinians."

My question: Where are Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street and Michael Walzer of Americans for Peace Now? This is actually an issue we can all do business on. Ben-Ami says that he is trying to end the colonization of the West Bank. Well, focusing on the Hebron Fund and its tax break is one real and significant way to apply pressure. Earlier this year my old professor, Walzer, wrote bravely that the United States must put heavy pressure on Israel to defeat the settler movement (and save the 2-state solution)! Walzer is on the board of Americans for Peace Now. So are Dan Fleshler and Richard Dreyfuss.

Shouldn’t they all speak out? Do they agree with Daniel Levy (the muse of J Street) and Jeffrey Goldberg? Goldberg, last month: "Citi Field is hosting N.Y. Mets Go to Bat for Hebron Jews, a fundraiser for Hebron’s Jewish community. I can think of better causes."

Or here’s Daniel Levy of the Century Foundation on C-Span, Nov. 10. At 98:52, Levy says:

"I would say that one takes as a point of departure…. US support for Israel should draw the red line at the Green Line and one would come with as watertight a policy as possible.

"Including when the New York Mets facility is being used to host a fundraiser for the Hebron Fund, that kind of thing, those kinds of organizations, should not be allowed to raise money on a tax-deductable charitable basis, in the United States."

Or as Levy said on this site:

[M]aking donations to settler activities beyond the Green Line non-tax deductible (not charitable gifts) is not a boycott-it is simply that such activities should not benefit from a charitable gift status.

Peace Now gets this issue. Ori Nir of Peace Now made this strong statement last spring:

"I don’t know how many people, including in the U.S. government, realize the extent of private American funding to settlements. . . . Every dollar that goes to settlements makes Middle East peace that much harder to reach."

I asked Nir why Peace Now isn’t specifically going after the tax breaks to the Hebron Fund. He wrote:

"We are on record opposing any kind of material or non-material assistance to West Bank settlements. When the settlers launched a campaign to encourage American Jews to buy homes in the West Bank in 2007, we were the only Jewish group that made noise about it. …When it comes to the situation in Hebron, we have been more outspoken than any group in denouncing the unacceptable conditions there. I wrote a blog posting from Hebron when I was there in the spring. In the past, we have written about Hebron extensively.

"So, while it is true that we did not react to the Hebron Fund event in NY – just because we were swamped with other issues – I don’t think that anyone has any doubt about our position. We strongly oppose any support of Israeli settlement in the West Bank. We think it’s wrong. We think it damages efforts to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace, and we think that supporting the settlement enterprise is a disservice to peace."

Isaac Luria of J Street says, "We spoke out on this stuff during the Nadia Matar uproar and with an action to Malcolm Hoenlein at the end of last year." He points out that a recent statement on Jerusalem also blasted "fundraisers."

But J Street’s statements have all been to deplore American support without going any further. It seems to me that campaigns have to be targeted to be real and effective. J Street and Peace Now both avoided the issue that the Guardian focused on: The Mets hosting Hebron Fund and the U.S. gov’t giving them a tax break. And no one besides Daniel Levy and Jeff Goldberg actually spoke out at the time and joined their voices publicly to the 11 israeli, US, and Palestinian groups who called on the Mets to cancel it.

I’m not trying to shame Peace Now and J Street; I’m sure a lot of their members agree. I sense that the organizations themselves are leery of any hint of BDS. When actually this is an area where the radicals and the liberals can join forces to good effect.

Here is another specific organization that needs to be targeted: Task Force to Save the Nation and the Land, which Coteret says has given Israeli soldiers money for killing Palestinian "terrorists" in the occupied territories. Tax breaks for this criminality? We have consensus. Let’s go after them.

Source: Mondoweiss

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