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Hezbollah and PCUSA: The Media Project, December 12, 2014 December 12, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Press criticism, The Media Project.
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Nowhere has it surfaced in mainstream American press that an Israeli civil rights organization filed a whistleblower complaint with the IRS, accusing the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) of violating its tax-exempt status through overt political lobbying, and by violating US anti-terror laws through links with Hezbollah.

Reports have been printed in the religious press (Jewish and Christian), but save for English-language stories in Israeli press, Arutz Sheva 7 and the Jerusalem Post, this story has not captured the interests of editors. Perhaps the extensive coverage of the Catholic Church and conservative Protestant lobbying against the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) or the Houston sermon scandal has satiated the editors’ appetites for First Amendment church/state stories. But it remains odd nonetheless that no one else is discussing a politics-and-religion story that has arisen this time from the “left”.

What has been written is pretty good, however. The Jerusalem Post story is a well crafted piece that shows how one writes a story when one side will not play ball, the reporter has limited information, and is working within space and deadline constraints.

(As an aside, I wrote for the Jerusalem Post for a number of years as one of their London correspondents, but am not now affiliated with the newspaper and do not know the author of the article in question.)

The kernel of the various stories comes from the same, not very well written, press release.

Where the Jerusalem Post stands out is in the value it added to the press release. It begins its story in a matter-of-fact tone.

Shurat Hadin (the Israel Law Center) has filed a legal complaint against the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), alleging violations of the US tax code for unlawful political lobbying and contact with Hezbollah, a US-designated terrorist organization.

The second sentence fills out the who/what/where and when questions before taking a quote from the press release that explains why.

The Tel Aviv-based organization publicized the submission of its 38-page complaint with the US Internal Revenue Service on Tuesday.

“It is high time the IRS took a long look at the Presbyterian Church and investigated its meeting with the designated- terrorist organization Hezbollah, its lobbying activities, and its anti-Israel divestment policies,” said Shurat Hadin spokesman attorney Robert Tolchin.

“The PCUSA is obsessed with attacking the Jewish state and has moved far from the activities which it presented to the IRS to secure its tax-free status in the United States.”

The article lays out the charges as articulated in the press release that Shurat Hadin had given the US government:

“documentary and video evidence showing PCUSA delegates meeting with the US-designated terrorist group Hezbollah, publishing anti-Semitic materials, enacting a racist policy to divest from American companies doing business with Israel, lobbying the US Congress, and distributing political advocacy materials in violation of its tax-exempt status as a religious organization.”

And then, it offered the PCUSA a chance to respond, which it did by declining to respond to the accusations. (I, too, sent a query to the PCUSA about the story but did not get a response.)

At this point the JPost adds value to the article, offering a perspective from an expert on this issue, Yitzhak Santis of NGO Monitor in Jerusalem. Perhaps the JPost could be faulted for not offering a talking head from the other side – one of the myriad of organizations in favor of boycotting or divesting from Israel.

However, the expert the JPost does cite in its story speaks directly to the issues and concerns raised in the Shurat HaDin lawsuit, providing context and background missing from most Western news outlets covering Israel.

Were this a magazine piece, a contrary voice from an expert opposed to NGO Monitor would be essential, especially in light of the PCUSA’s silence. Yet given the space parameters under which the author had to work, I think this story does the job. The first story on an issue is not always the final word.

As the PCUSA will one day decide it wants to say something about the charge that it is in bed with Hezbollah, there is ample opportunity to offer a different perspective on the issue. I hope to read that article, too.

First printed in The Media Project