By Rafael Medoff/JNS.org
The news that the Internal Revenue Service
(IRS) unfairly targeted conservative groups has brought renewed spotlight on a 2010
lawsuit filed by the pro-Israel group Z Street, which alleges it was also singled
out by the IRS when applying for tax-exempt status.
Click photo to download. Caption: IRS headquarters in Washington, DC. Credit: Internal Revenue Service.
The Z Street case, whose first hearing is
set for July 2 in U.S. District Court in the
District of Columbia, has raised eyebrows in the Jewish community. But Z
Street’s claims, if true, would not mark the first time the IRS has been used
against Jewish activists.
During the Holocaust era, the
object of U.S. government wrath was the Bergson Group, a political action
committee led by Peter Bergson (Hillel Kook), a Zionist emissary from
Palestine. The group used newspaper ads, rallies, and lobbying to press the Franklin
Delano Roosevelt administration for the rescue of Jews from the Nazis.
The president was not happy about those protests. One senior
White House aide reported that FDR was “much displeased” when the Bergson Group
brought 400 rabbis to Washington to plead for rescue. First Lady Eleanor
Roosevelt told Bergson himself that the president was “very upset” about one of
the group’s ads, which FDR felt was “hitting below the belt” because it accused
him of turning a blind eye to the Nazi massacres.
Click photo to download. Caption: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Dr. Rafael Medoff recalls an episode when FDR used the IRS against Jewish activists, amid current allegations surrounding the IRS and the pro-Israel group Z Street. Credit: Frank O. Salisbury.
The U.S. State Department, too, was annoyed by Bergson’s
campaign for rescue. Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long privately
complained that the group’s newspaper ads “made it very difficult for the Department.”
Long’s deputy, Robert Alexander, claimed that the slogan used in one Bergson
ad, “Action—Not Pity,” had actually been invented by the Nazis as part of a
conspiracy to embarrass the Allies.
It was not long before the administration sent both the
Federal Bureau of Investigation and the IRS after Bergson. They were looking
for evidence of criminal activity, but their motivation was political. An
internal FBI memo that I obtained under the Freedom of Information Act bluntly
explained the reason for U.S. government action against Bergson: “This man has been
in the hair of [Secretary of State] Cordell Hull.”
FBI agents began by getting background information from what
they called “persons in New York City who are familiar with Israelite matters.”
Then they eavesdropped on the Bergsonites’ telephone conversations, opened
their mail, went through their trash, and planted informants in the group to
steal documents from Bergson’s office. The goal was to find proof the Bergson
Group was secretly assisting the Irgun Zvai Leumi underground in Palestine.
They found no such evidence.
Their second goal was to find a link between Bergson and the Communist Party.
One FBI memo approvingly quoted a rival Jewish organization’s description of the
Bergsonites as “a group of thoroughly disreputable Communist Zionists.” In a
private letter, J. Edgar Hoover referred to the playwright Ben Hecht and six
other leading Bergson activists as “fellow travelers.” But the FBI’s spying on
Bergson did not turn up any …read more