US House Representative Rashida Tlaib has caused a stir after pointing out on Twitter that illegal Israeli settlements currently receive tax-exempt status in America, a contravention of international law. In an open letter, she called on US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to examine the legitimacy of the status of US-based entities supporting settlements which perpetuate the forced removal of Palestinians from their land.
Did you know organizations funding illegal Israeli settlements currently get tax exempt status, in clear violation of international law AND US federal tax law? Treasury Dept. @SecYellen must act to enforce US law and end these organizations 501(c)(3) status. pic.twitter.com/WVfv5bx2mE
— Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (@RepRashida) July 22, 2021
Tlaib is the first and only Palestinian American member of the US Congress. Throughout her term as congresswoman, she has been consistently vocal about Israel's racist policies and human rights violations against Palestinians.
This "501 (c) (3)" status refers to the section of the US Internal Revenue Code that permits federal tax exemption for non-profit organisations, particularly public charities, private foundations, or private operating foundations. Tlaib's letter expressed concerns that US charities are financially supporting illegal Israeli organisations.
"Since Israeli forces occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, in 1967," she wrote, "Israeli authorities have pursued an unlawful settlement enterprise in occupied territory — an aggressive policy of seizing lands either privately owned by, or collectively used by Palestinians, and allocating them for the use and enjoyment of Jewish Israelis."
She outlined the impact that such funding has had on Palestinians. "Israeli authorities utilise discriminatory housing, land, and property legal regimes and impermissible military justifications to dispossess Palestinians of their lands, or destroy Palestinians homes, property, and essential civilian infrastructure."
The letter also highlighted the obligation of the US government to recognise and work to eliminate illegality and transgressions of international law. "The government… has a duty to not encourage or recognise violations of international humanitarian law… and must also act to end violations of international humanitarian law."
Several Twitter users questioned the congresswoman's relevance in the matter:
Stick to problems in your own country. I think you have some.
— Renie 🦁 (@exypgal) July 23, 2021
Pls can you focus more on those people who voted you in and your constituency ……..America put food on your table ,not isreal or Palestine….
— Sola Olayemi (@SolaOlayemi1) July 23, 2021
Someone should remind rashida that her constituents live in Detroit not Ramallah.
— 𓂆 REYNA (@ZenReyna) July 23, 2021
However, the US representative clearly outlined her reason for intervention in her letter. "The Central Fund of Israel (CFI), a US-based 501(c)(3) entity registered in New York State, is among several US-based groups fuelling the dispossession and displacement of Palestinians to make way for Jewish Israeli settlers. The group's tax-exempt non-profit status means their donors receive a form of valuable support from the US government in their efforts to bolster the settlement movement."
Her supporters hit back at those condemning her focus on the issue:
These organizations are subsidized by her constituents against their will. That is what non profit status affords them. Tax revenue that could build local schools and hospitals. They also impact families of her constituents directly who may live in Palestine.
— raf (@rafaelshimunov) July 23, 2021
Ali Abunimah, the director of electronicintifada.net, a Chicago-based publication covering Israel and Palestine, also responded to the thread highlighting the crucial position of the US:
As an American I want Congress to focus on ending US funding for Israel's terrorist regime
— Ali Abunimah (@AliAbunimah) July 23, 2021
Tlaib pointed out that the CFI has distributed at least $75 million in donations since 2015 in support of illegal Israeli settlements. "[This illegal enterprise includes] international crimes such as forcible transfer, the unlawful appropriation and destruction of property, and Israel's discriminatory military and housing, land and property legal regimes, among other violations."
While some Twitter users voiced their support for Tlaib, pro-Israel account holders took a less sympathetic approach:
Your loyalty to the Palestinian is appreciated
— Dona (@Dona73962699) July 24, 2021
Thank you Rashida for revealing the real face of Israel.
— Raghad 🇵🇸 #Palestinian (@MarayRagh) July 24, 2021
You are amazing, Thanks for standing with us and we hope that US end it's support for apartheid Israeli occupation that do all crimes to Palestinian every day ,and Palestine is free 🇵🇸❤️
— أَريج🌻 (@areejabdalnaby) July 24, 2021
Thanks for your courage in showing the truth
And don't doubt for one second that your voice will make a difference#FreePalestine 🇵🇸🇵🇸
— Eslam𓂆🇵🇸 (@eslam_dw20) July 25, 2021
— Shai DeLuca שי דלוקה 🇮🇱 (@ShaiDeLuca) July 23, 2021
The representative's post comes two months after the occupation state's 11-day bombardment of Gaza, which left 250 Palestinians dead, including 65 children. The shelling followed protests in occupied Jerusalem as Palestinians anticipated the decision of the Israeli Supreme Court to evict four Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.