A New York-based pro-Israel group has latched onto President Donald Trump’s December anti-Semitism order in the first known legal maneuver invoking the recent executive edict to challenge a pro-Palestinian organization’s tax-exempt status.
Lawyer David Abrams, the executive director of the Zionist Advocacy Center, laid out his case in a May 26 letter to the Internal Revenue Service, according to a newly disclosed lobbying filing with the US Department of Justice. In the letter, Abrams cites EO 13899 to allege that the Wespac Foundation
“supports unlawful discriminatory harassment on American college campuses against Jewish students,” which he argues contravenes the president’s executive order.
Trump’s order aims to ban perceived discrimination against Jews in programs that receive federal financial assistance, notably colleges and universities. In his letter, Abrams argues that Wespac has provided financial support to groups that support boycotting Israel – including Students for Justice in Palestine, the United States Palestinian Community Network, the Palestinian Youth Movement and Adalah New York – thereby running afoul of the executive order.
“The courts have made clear that it is necessary and appropriate to revoke the tax exempt status of organizations which engage in discrimination and discriminatory harassment,” Abrams wrote. “Moreover, the recent Executive Order … makes clear that prohibited discrimination can take the form of the type of campus harassment and intimidation engaged in by organizations.”
In his letter to the IRS, Abrams highlights the EO’s reference to the working definition of antisemitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2016, which includes “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor,” to make his case against the Wespac Foundation.
Wespac is a progressive group that has advocated for social change in Westchester County, New York, since 1974. The nonprofit, which did not respond to a request for comment, reported $423,000 in revenues and $350,000 in expenses in 2017, according to its latest publicly available tax filing.
Abrams’ Zionist Advocacy Center is a registered foreign agent of the International Legal Forum, an Israeli government-funded organization based in Jerusalem that seeks to fight back against perceived anti-Semitism around the world. Critics accuse the group of seeking to shut down legitimate criticism of Israeli policies and support for Palestinian rights through lawsuits and other legal tactics.
Lara Friedman, the president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, who has written extensively about what she calls Abrams’ “legal activism,” said that the New York lawyer seems to be “trying to establish a novel interpretation of US law.”
In effect, Friedman said, “Abrams appears to be telling the IRS that tax-exempt status in itself should be viewed as a form of federal financial assistance, and that therefore the EO should apply.”
Abrams did not respond to a request for comment. He has previously challenged – unsuccessfully – the tax-exempt status of Doctors without Borders for working with health authorities in Gaza, which is run by the US-designated terrorist group Hamas.