IFCO /Pastors for Peace resists IRS attacks

Once again the U.S. government is targeting the solidarity movement with harassment in an attempt to silence the progressive movement in this country.

IFCO (the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization)/Pastors for Peace says it has become the victim of “political persecution and an aggressive harassment campaign by the IRS.” At the root of this recent attack, according to government documents, is IFCO’s work with Viva Palestina.

A faith-based, social justice agency, IFCO/Pastors for Peace was founded over 40 years ago and was the first national foundation, they proudly declare, founded and controlled by people of color. It has carried out some of the most groundbreaking and historic campaigns in solidarity with Cuba and has been a leader of principled actions that defy U.S. policy in bold and even heroic ways.

The co-directors of IFCO/Pastors for Peace, Gail Walker and Father Luis Barrios, issued a statement Jan. 6 on behalf of the organization alerting the progressive movement to a two-plus-year campaign by the Internal Revenue Service against IFCO.

This campaign has resulted in an attempt by the IRS to strip IFCO of its tax-exempt, nonprofit organizational status, commonly known as 501(c)(3). Hundreds if not thousands of social organizations in the U.S. use this status in order to raise badly needed funds and to save on costly government taxes.

If the government is successful in stripping IFCO of this status, it could be a blow to other organizations, too — such as those fighting for immigrant rights and the rights of the homeless, the poor, youth and countless other populations who depend on these organizations for services and survival.

It would send a chilling message to any organization and progressive movement that it could easily be targeted for harassment. But IFCO’s response to this harassment is another example that the movement will not be silenced and will fight back.

Muslim bashers behind IRS audit

IFCO representatives explain that the IRS audit was put into motion because of requests by Rep. Brad Sherman, a Democrat from California, and Sue Myrick, a retired Republican congressperson from North Carolina, in a rare show of bipartisan unity. They wrote 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.” Hamas is a Palestinian organization with broad grassroots support, especially in Gaza where it is the elected authority, but it has been labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S.

Former Rep. Myrick is an extreme 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 … repeatedly casting their ballots to keep her in office. Her critics accused her of fomenting hate against immigrant and Muslim communities. She penned the forward [sic] 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 Islam-o-phobia and thinks there is a conspiracy behind every Muslim in public life.’” (Dec. 29, 2012)

In response to IRS charges, IFCO states, “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 ­British-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.”

Solidarity is not ‘terrorism’

Viva Palestina is an international solidarity campaign that brought material aid to Palestine in defiance of sanctions, blockades and other acts of war against the oppressed Palestinian people. It helped organize the delivery of $1 million in food, medicine and essential supplies to the Palestinian people, accompanied by such prominent figures as author Alice Walker, New York City Councilperson Charles Barron, British Member of Parliament George Galloway, former Congressperson Cynthia McKinney, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and many others, during some of Israel’s fiercest attacks on Gaza.

Co-directors Walker and Barrios add that the IRS is also attacking IFCO’s decades of solidarity work with Cuba. As the government escalated its years-long harassment with these recent charges, IFCO/Pastors for Peace and all the supporters and friends of IFCO immediately went into motion to challenge and resist this attack.

Countless groups and individuals called IFCO, Walker reports, to show solidarity and ask how they could help. An email campaign asking people to carry out solidarity tore up the Internet with phone calls and emails to the government.

A legal challenge is of course part of the response. The IFCO Appeal, according to Walker and Barrios, “eloquently described work we have historically done to advance the struggles of oppressed people for justice and self-determination. The Appeal proves that the projects we support and operate have faithfully furthered our mission and our organization’s tax-exempt purpose.”

The appeal also points out that the Viva Palestina project “was not designed to nor did it in fact support any terrorist group but was designed to provide ambulances and medical supplies to the people living in Gaza who had been suffering from the lack of such humanitarian supplies and equipment.”

Against blockade and ban
on travel to Cuba

In addition, IFCO/Pastors for Peace has for decades organized caravans filled with aid to Nicaragua and other places in Central America.

Because of entrenched animosity to the Cuban Revolution by U.S. imperialism, unlicensed travel and aid to Cuba, as well as spending U.S. dollars there, are all forbidden by the 50-plus-year blockade against that country.

But IFCO/Pastors for Peace decided heroically in the early 1990s to defy that ban because it is wrong. It not only took forbidden aid to Cuba through the U.S./Cuba Friendshipment Caravan, but refused to apply for any kind of license. And upon reentry to the U.S, the caravans and the Venceremos Brigade openly and publicly declare they have traveled to Cuba.

Each year ever since, dozens of cars, buses, vans and even trucks filled with all kinds of vital aid have made their way across the U.S., stopping in cities where forums, rallies and meetings explain what kind of country Cuba really is.

These caravans are groundbreaking, and will be part of the progressive and revolutionary history of the Cuban solidarity movement in this country.

During the second caravan to Cuba in 1993, with tons of aid stowed on a little yellow school bus and other vehicles, Pastors for Peace refused to sign legal documents that justified the blockade of Cuba. The caravan was prevented from crossing the U.S.-Mexican border for many days.

As a result, a hunger strike by dozens of the hundreds of participants began right there at the Texas-Mexico border and lasted for 23 days.

This struggle made national news on one of the rare occasions that anything positive is said about Cuba. Time Magazine wrote that the government “blinked” in the confrontation with IFCO.

The caravan and its aid were finally released, to the cheers of the hundreds of participants. This stalemate resulted in a victory not only for Pastors but for the millions in solidarity with Cuba ­worldwide.

It was this example of defiant heroic solidarity that earned IFCO the wrath of the Office of Foreign Assets Control. Indeed, Pastors for Peace has continued to refuse to go along with any laws that justify the economic and political war against Cuba.

OFAC is the government entity that enforces the blockade of Cuba. It has attempted for over 20 years to harass IFCO, including with injunctions, but has failed.

The progressive movement is confident that today’s attack against IFCO/Pastors for Peace will result in another victory for IFCO and all those struggling for a better world. The organization will prevail because, as IFCO points out, aren’t conditions such as 15 million children in the world dying of hunger each year and 50 million living in the United States without health insurance real acts of terrorism? These conditions are the basis for a real fightback against the right.

IFCO writes, “We have no way of knowing how the IRS is going to respond to our Appeal, but we want you to know that as always, we are ready to fight; to defend and protect IFCO and its rich history. As we wage this battle we are counting on your support and participation in this vital campaign to defend ourselves and those that we support, against this brutal IRS attack.”

Indeed IFCO/Pastors for Peace deserves the support and solidarity of everyone. Cuba and Palestine and all those in struggle deserve no less.

For more information and to find out how to participate in the campaign to defend IFCO/Pastors for Peace, including making needed donations, visit ifconews.org or call the office at 212-926-5757.