It never ceases to amaze me where and when a game of Jewish Geography gets started. The produce aisle at the supermarket, waiting on the pick up line at school, jumping over waves down the shore, even the last pew on the right at a friend’s daughter’s Christening. Jewish Geography is our version of “Six Degrees of Separation”. You run through a list of names, until you find a common connection.
As Etan Diamond observes in And I Will Dwell in Their Midst: Orthodox Jews in Suburbia:
“This ‘game’ of ‘Jewish geography’ follows a simple pattern. One person asks, ‘You’re from [insert name of city here]? Do you know [insert person’s name here]?’ The other one usually responds something like, ‘Sure, he sits behind my uncle in synagogue,’ or ‘I met her once at a youth group convention,’ or ‘She is really good friends with my sister’s college roommate.’ Non-Jews often find it astonishing that such links are made so easily, but given both the relative smallness of the Jewish community – and the even smaller size of the Orthodox Jewish community – and the extensive overlapping social circles within these communities, it should not surprise too much.
So, for a lot of Jewish folks, it comes down to who you know. Who you’re friends with, and whose side you’re on. This was made very clear recently to a certain pro-Israel group, Z Street. Z Street was formed in 2009 by Lori Lowenthal Marcus, as a conservative alternative to the left-leaning, Obama supporting, group J Street. And in 2010, when Z Street applied for non-profit status, they ran into intense scrutiny from the IRS. Anybody who hasn’t been living under a rock, or exclusively watching MSBC, knows that it has recently come to light that the IRS has been targeting Tea Party and Conservative organizations for the past several years. And Z Street was no exception.
Remarkably, when challenged to explain its aggressive investigation, the IRS cited the possibility that Z Street might be involved in funding terrorism. As Lori Lowenthal Marcus notes:
“For years the IRS has denied it took any such inappropriate actions and has done its best to prevent Z STREET from pursuing its claim of viewpoint discrimination. The IRS even took the position that because Israel is a country “where terrorism happens,” the service was justified in taking additional time to determine whether Z STREET was involved with funding terrorism. Z STREET is a purely educational organization that has never funded anything, either in Israel or anywhere else.”
Wow, a group that doesn’t think the way this Administration does comes under fire. And of course, Obama says he had no idea this was happening. He found out about it when it hit the wires on Friday. And again, of course, he is “outraged”.
Really, this is turning into a Saturday Night Live skit — “the man who knew nothing”. Are people still buying “the most transparent administration in history” jazz? Well, Z Street is fighting back. They have filed a lawsuit, Z Street v. IRS, and have a court date – July 2, 2013. And they’re fired up! “The IRS admitted using the terms “tea party” and “patriot” as a search in the applications and/or files of organizations in order to subject organizations with those words to a stricter review. Classic viewpoint discrimination. And Z STREET was told the IRS did the same with respect to “organizations connected to Israel.” Z STREET was also told by the IRS agent to whom our file was originally assigned that organizations like ours may be assigned to “a special unit in the D.C. office to determine whether the organization’s activities contradict the Administration’s public policies.”
For more than 3 years, Z Street has been playing Jewish Geography, and in a game that really doesn’t have winners and losers, they have been losing. Not anymore.
Written by Debby Wolf