Your Tax Dollars at Work—in West Bank Settlements by Christopher Hitchens
Source Dave Anderson
Date 10/07/14/23:28
Your Tax Dollars at Work—in West Bank Settlements
Why is the U.S. Treasury Department subsidizing zealots who oppose our
foreign-policy objectives?
By Christopher Hitchens

Has President Barack Obama ever looked more ineffectual than he did
last week, sitting almost wordlessly next to Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu, while the latter, on what seems like his 10th trip to
Washington this year, lectured us all yet again on the importance of
leaving Israel unmolested and even uncriticized? Even as the press
conference dragged on, with the words "peace process" coming to sound
more hollow and mocking by the moment, bulldozers and settlers were
continuing their apparently uninterruptable creation of facts on the
ground, all designed to forestall or pre-empt the availability of a
geographic space in which even a vestigial Palestinian state could be
created. Barely reported was the blatantly expressed view of
Netanyahu's thuggish foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman—a man so
hostile to diplomacy that he barely travels—that no such state could
be expected from the current negotiations in any case. Apparently
forgotten is the humiliation of Vice President Joe Biden, whose visit
to Jerusalem last March was made laughable when the Israeli housing
ministry—currently under the control of the religious Orthodox Shas
Party—insisted on pressing ahead with new construction in a hotly
disputed neighborhood.

I am not one of those who believes—as Obama is said to believe—that a
solution to the Palestinian statehood question would bring an end to
Muslim resentment against the United States. (Incidentally, if he
really does believe this, his lethargy and impotence in the face of
Netanyahu's consistent double-dealing is even more culpable.) The
Islamist fanatics have their own agenda, and, as in the case of Hamas
and its Iranian backers, they have already demonstrated that nothing
but the destruction of Israel and the removal of American influence
from the region will possibly satisfy them. No, it is more the case
that justice—and a homeland for the Palestinians—is a good and
necessary cause in its own right. It is also a special legal and moral
responsibility of the United States, which has several times declared
a dual-statehood outcome to be its objective.

No serious person doubts that any such outcome is radically
incompatible with the continuing annexation of Palestinian land and
property; annexation that even Israeli courts have often found to be
unlawful. Thus the immense significance of the long report in the New
York Times that was printed just as Netanyahu was arriving for his
latest attempt to run out the clock. The headline—"Tax-Exempt Funds
Aiding Settlements in West Bank"—was somewhat outdone by the eloquence
of the subhead, which boldly stated, "U.S. Gives Tax Breaks for
Donations That Help To Sustain Efforts It Opposes." This, too, proved
to be an understatement. Over the last decade, the report established,
at least 40 American organizations have collected "more than $200
million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlement in the West Bank
and East Jerusalem."

The impressive documentation assembled by the Times revealed some
familiar and ugly contours. Many of the U.S.-based pro-settlement
forces are connected to extreme Israeli nationalist groups with proven
records of violence (including the heirs of the late Rabbi Meir
Kahane) or to the wilder pulpits of Christian extremism, such as the
one occupied by the hysterical Rev. John Hagee, or to essentially
racketeering outfits, such as the one operated until recently by the
disgraced "lobbyist" Jack Abramoff. It comes as no surprise to find
that much of the material provided by these "charitable" fronts
consists of sniper equipment, night-vision binoculars, bulletproof
vehicles, and guard dogs.

So here you have it in plain words: The U.S. Treasury Department
passively allows tax breaks to vicious and fanatical groups whose
activity, if conducted by Israelis, would be illegal under Israeli
law! (It's more than a decade since Israel banned tax deductions for
groups that devote themselves to the creation of unrecognized
"outposts" on the West Bank.) This, in effect, constitutes an official
American subsidy to outlaw zealot groups whose aim is to destroy any
chance of accomplishing what is this country's declared foreign-policy

Nor is that the most objectionable part of the sordid story. Take a
glance at the rhetoric of the groups that are flouting local and
international law. According to a Tennessee-based charity named
HaYovel, which aims to fuse the efforts of Christian and Jewish
fundamentalists in a settlement on disputed land in Samaria, the aim
of its tax-exempt donations is to prepare for "the soon coming jubilee
in Yeshua, messiah." I don't know about you, but I would prefer them
to be using their own money, not mine, if they insist on rehearsing
for the apocalypse on other people's property. Or try a few lines from
the Rev. Hagee's brimstone rhetoric, claiming that "Israel exists
because of a covenant God made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob 3,500
years ago—and that covenant still stands."

Now, Hagee and his friends are quite free to believe this, even if it
negates the largely secular constitution of the Israeli state and even
if it infuriates Israeli officials who have to hear militant settlers
call for armed resistance to Israeli troops. But the Treasury
Department is not free to allow our tax dollars to be expended in
underwriting such incendiary nonsense. The U.S. Constitution is icily
hard and clear on the point: There can be no "establishment of
religion" by our government. And these nasty little settlements are
quite unambiguously aimed at the promulgation of a sectarian faith—and
in its most literal and fundamentalist and exclusive form at that.

So here we have found a means of a) alienating even the most flexible
and patient Palestinians; while b) frustrating the efforts of the more
principled and compromising Israelis; while c) empowering and
financing some of the creepiest forces in American and Israeli
society; and d) heaping ordure on our own secular founding documents.
When will the Justice Department and the Congress and the Supreme
Court become aware of this huge and rank offense, which is designed to
bring us ever nearer to holy war?

Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and the Roger S.
Mertz media fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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