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IRS attacks Cuba-supporting IFCO for fiscally sponsoring Viva Palestina

January 28, 2014

by IFCO/Pastors for Peace

“The IRS is threatening to revoke the tax-exempt status of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization, IFCO, the venerable anti-poverty and human rights group. The government is investigating IFCO’s aid to Palestinians in Gaza and its assistance to U.S. students who want to avail themselves of medical scholarships in Cuba. The website of the pro-Israel Investigative Project on Terrorism accuses IFCO of links to Hamas. “To have the IRS utilize a blog to come after a 47-year-old faith-based non-profit organization run by people of color since its inception is an outrage and an insult,” said IFCO co-director Gail Walker.”Black Agenda Report

Fidel Castro greets Lucius Walker 072610
On July 26, 2010, former President Fidel Castro greets Rev. Lucius Walker, founder of IFCO/Pastors for Peace, on his arrival in Cuba with the annual U.S.-Cuba Friendshipment Caravan, carrying tons of humanitarian aid to Cuba as a grassroots challenge to the U.S. blockade. Rev. Walker, 80, died of a heart attack weeks later, on Sept. 7, 2010.
In March 2011, just six months after the passing of our founding director, Rev. Lucius Walker Jr., the IRS began to conduct an audit of our organization. We have learned that the audit was in fact triggered by letters written by Congressional Reps. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., and Sue Myrick, R-N.C., now retired, to the commissioner of the IRS, the U.S. attorney general and the secretary of the treasury, alleging that IFCO “may be raising funds for Hamas,” an organization designated as terrorist by the U.S. government.

This is a blatantly false allegation. IFCO is being persecuted because in 2009 we agreed to serve as a fiscal sponsor to the U.S. component of the project Viva Palestina. Viva Palestina is a U.K.-based charity organization that provides food, medicine and essential goods and services needed by the civilian population of the occupied Palestinian Territories and that highlights the causes and results of wars with a view to achieving peace.

In addition to condemning IFCO for its support of Viva Palestina, the IRS has also attacked our years of solidarity work with Cuba. In both instances our legal advisor eloquently described work we have historically done to advance the struggles of oppressed people for justice and self-determination. That statement, published in the IFCO Appeal, proves that the projects we support and operate have faithfully furthered our mission and our organization’s tax-exempt purpose, as it was originally described.

Our struggle against the IRS is just beginning. Our research has revealed information about the shadowy characters who triggered the IRS attack. Which leaves us asking …

So just who is attacking IFCO?

IFCO Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan buses at Mexican border 072010
IFCO Friendshipment Caravan buses filled with the volunteers prepare to cross the border from Texas into Mexico on July 20, 2010.
Sue Myrick: Tea Party supporter and now retired Congressmember Sue Myrick is one of two Congress members alleging that IFCO “may be raising funds for Hamas.” Hamas, the democratically elected government of Gaza, has broad grassroots support among the civilian population of Gaza but has been labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.

Myrick chaired the Republican Study Committee, the House Republican caucus responsible for nearly every right wing piece of legislation in the last 40 years and one of the main parties responsible for slashing social programs like food stamps, social security and Medicare.

Former Rep. Myrick in particular is an extreme, right wing conservative. According to the Charlotte Observer, upon her resignation from office last year, “Myrick may be best remembered for her outspokenness on illegal immigration and terrorism. Her supporters were plentiful … Her critics accused her of fomenting hate against immigrant and Muslim communities.”

IFCO Pastors for Peace Friendshipment Caravan cargo arrives in Havana 083112
The IFCO/Pastors for Peace 20th anniversary caravan cargo of nearly 100 tons of humanitarian aid arrives in Cuba Aug. 31, 2012. This 23rd Friendshipment included five vehicles and four containers of medical, educational and construction aid, collected by groups from across the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
She penned the forward to a book, “Muslim Mafia,” whose researchers called Islam a disease. Citing the book, she joined other Republicans in 2009 calling for an investigation of the Council on American Islamic Relations, a pro-Islam nonprofit, accusing it of planting “spies” within national security committees to shape legislative policy. Said Jibril Hough, a spokesman for the Islamic Center of Charlotte: “I honestly believe that she really thinks there is a conspiracy behind almost any Muslim in public life. That’s what her legacy will be – someone who promoted Islamophobia and thinks there is a conspiracy behind every Muslim in public life.”

Steven Emerson: The IRS cites Steven Emerson’s “Investigative Project on Terrorism,” a lobby group, not a legal or government agency, as an authoritative source for the statement that Viva Palestina funds “supported Hamas.” It is criminal that the IRS is making decisions based on the negative writings of political opponents posted on the Internet. It is important to note that IFCO was the fiscal sponsor for Viva Palestina USA, the U.S. component of the U.K. based Viva Palestina project.

Viva Palestina USA raised money ONLY for medical and humanitarian aid delivered to NGOs to focus on the dire needs of the Palestinian people just like dozens of other humanitarian groups from around the world, such as Doctors Without Borders.

IFCO Co-Director Gail Walker at Rev. Lucius Walker plaque Havana's Anti-Imperialist Plaza 2012 Peace Caravan
IFCO Co-Director Gail Walker, daughter of founder Rev. Lucius Walker, places flowers at the plaque honoring her father at Havana’s Anti-Imperialist Plaza upon the arrival of the 2012 Peace Caravan.
But Emerson’s supposed expertise in researching terrorist networks has frequently been questioned due to his propensity for making false accusations against Muslims and his sloppy approach to investigative reporting. Most notably, in 1995, Emerson claimed that the Oklahoma City bombing showed “a Middle East trait” because it “was done with the intent to inflict as many casualties as possible.” And in 1998, Emerson was tied to a false report that Pakistan was planning a nuclear first strike on India.

Emerson’s weak credibility hasn’t stopped him from building a mini-empire from his offices at the well-funded IPT. But his penchant for secrecy – his office location is secret, employees refer to it as “the bat cave” and journalists who visit it have been blindfolded en route – has raised serious questions about management of IPT’s finances.

Journalist Bob Smietana has questioned Emerson’s use of his non-profit IPT to funnel profits to his own consulting firm, SAE Productions. Why isn’t the IRS investigating IPT?

Haiti earthquake Cuban-trained US doctors pack for Haiti service 020110 court. IFCO Pastors for Peace
Thanks to IFCO, students from disadvantaged communities in the U.S. can now become doctors at Cuba’s world-renowned Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM). This priceless education is free in exchange for a promise to return home to serve those in need. Apply at IFCOnews.org. These Cuban-trained U.S. doctors are preparing to leave for Haiti on Feb. 1, 2010, shortly after the earthquake.

An attack against IFCO is an attack against us all

This IRS attack against IFCO is an attack against the progressive community-based programs that we have supported since our inception more than 45 years ago.

In addition to our fiscal sponsorship of Viva Palestina and our Cuba Solidarity work, the IRS has found fault with programs whose work is to promote universal healthcare and a project of young people working to transform blighted urban landscapes into models of community-based, social and environmental sustainability, using community organizing, artistic expression and urban agriculture.

An attack against IFCO is an attack against the more than 30 different community-based programs we support through our fiscal sponsorship work. As an organization that has historically engaged in social and spiritual activism, we believe that anything that produces terror, fear or panic can indeed be described as terrorism. Especially when the end result is political repression aimed at controlling or suppressing political opposition.

As a result, we reject the IRS accusation that we are doing business with a so-called terrorist organization. It is time for us social and spiritual activists to reclaim the narrative, to accurately define terrorism:

  • Every year 15 million children die of hunger.
  • As many as 20.5 million Americans live in extreme poverty
  • Nearly 50 million people across the United States do not have medical insurance.
  • 100,000 people in the U.S. die each year from prescription drugs.

In reality, aren’t these all forms of terrorism?

If you agree, then we need your help fighting this attack aimed at shutting down an organization that has historically worked to advance the struggles of oppressed people for justice and self-determination.

Help IFCO help oppressed people fighting for justice and self-determination

For nearly five decades, IFCO has demonstrated with actions our commitment to administer true justice, to show mercy and express compassion. Now the first national foundation controlled by people of color in the United States is being denied tax-exempt status by the U.S. government. Here is the five-part IRS report: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5. Our legal advisor’s response can be read here.

Charles Barron, George Galloway, Cynthia McKinney, M-1 interviewed in Gaza 071509 by Viva Palestina, web
British MP George Galloway is interviewed as Viva Palestina briefly succeeds in breaking the blockade of Gaza on July 15, 2009. Jubilant members of the U.S. contingent, which was fiscally sponsored by IFCO, include former U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, New York City Councilman Charles Barron and rapper and peace diplomat M-1 of dead prez.
The U.S. government is now using the IRS as a weapon against us since they have failed to defeat us with OFAC (the Office of Foreign Assets Control), the government entity that enforces the blockade of Cuba. For the past 22 years we have stood firm in our faith and our conviction as we have organized our U.S.-Cuba Friendshipment caravans.

It is our faith which calls us to offer “a cup of cold water” (Matthew 25:35) to our brothers and sisters suffering as a result of U.S. policies. This is an attack on people of faith and conscience, and IFCO is standing firm and fighting back, as we have done for nearly half a century.

As we wage this battle, we are counting on your support and participation in this vital campaign to defend ourselves and those we support against this brutal IRS attack. We desperately need your help! Here are three immediate steps you can take to assist us in this struggle:

  1. Contact your Congress members – senators and representative – and let them know that we need their support. Ask them to contact the Treasury Department to ask them to stop this political persecution and harassment against IFCO.
  2. Contact the Treasury Department directly to request they stop the political persecution and harassment of IFCO: Department of the Treasury, 1500 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. 20220, fax (202) 622-6415, http://www.treasury.gov/connect/Pages/contact-us.aspx.
  3. Help cover our legal expenses. We desperately need your financial support.
    • Send your check payable to IFCO to: IFCO, 418 West 145th St., New York, NY 10031.
    • Visit us at www.ifconews.org and make a secure donation on line.
    • Or call our office, (212) 926-5757, to make a generous donation by phone to help us defend our religious and civil liberties.

We need your help to spread the word about this vicious attack against people of faith and conscience and IFCO’s firm and principled stand to protect our right to be in fellowship with our brothers and sisters in struggle. Ask your networks to help publicize this attack against us.

Please check our website, www.ifconews.org, for regular updates.

Listen to the radio interviews with IFCO Co-Director Gail Walker on WBAI: Where We Live.

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