Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Writer Takes Issue With Charities That Support Israeli Settlements

An interesting op-ed piece in the Palestine News Network takes issue with U.S. tax laws that allow charities to accept donations in support of Israeli settlors occupying disputed lands.  According to the piece:

The United States government has on numerous occasions affirmed the illegality of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land and has reiterated that they pose an obstacle to achieving peace. However at the same time it also encourages American citizens to support settlers by providing tax exemptions on donations to settlements. US Secretary of State Rice defended the tax exemptions, referring to pro-settler groups as "humanitarian."  Following her arrival to the Middle East on Monday in another round of peace talks, the American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended US tax incentives that aid Israeli settlements deemed illegal under international law and also described by herself as an obstacle to a Palestinian state.  She said pro-settler groups have the right to tax exemptions because they are "humanitarian" and not political and rejected any comparison with Palestinian charities facing US sanctions for suspected links with Islamic parties such as Hamas.  The full scale of the financing of settlements by US tax exemptions is not clear because many groups involved in donating are not always transparent. But the audit conducted by Reuters of American tax records found that 13 tax exempt groups linked explicitly to settlements managed to collect more than $35 million in the past five years alone.

This, of course, is a very touchy issue.   But I think the writer makes the same mistake sometimes made in the United States with respect to muslim charities.  Nonprofits are part of an "independent sector" and concern themselves with the welfare of individuals without regard to the political context of that welfare.  The dangerous tendency nowadays is to conflate intent with effect.  The effect of providing free health care to illegal immigrants may be that illegal immigration is encouraged.  But that should not lead to the conclusion that the nonprofit is acting with illegal intent or that the intent should be precluded.  The same rationale ought to apply with regard to all humanitarian efforts --- that's why the Red Cross and Red Crescent are allowed to give assistance to wounded combatants.  The effect might be to encourage combatants but that should not lead to a condemnation of the intent.  You know what I'm trying to say, right?



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