Religious Groups Do Religious Things: The New York Times Finds a New Reason to Be Upset About the West Bank

A front-page expose in the New York Times today takes us into a disturbing scene in the West Bank : “American evangelicals”( boo! Bible-thumping crazies! ) are helping Israeli settlers with “picking grapes and pruning vines” ( land-grabbers! ) because they believe it will hasten “Christ’s second coming” ( see? crazies! ). This puts the Americans “in the middle of the fight for land that defines daily life here”:

When the evangelicals headed into the vineyards, they were pelted with rocks by Palestinians who say the settlers have planted creeping grape vines on their land to claim it as their own. Two volunteers were hurt. In the ensuing scuffle, a settler guard shot a 17-year-old Palestinian shepherd in the leg.

So: assholes and violence. Normal times on the West Bank. Why do we care about this today? Because a team of three Times reporters has uncovered a scandal: the religious group that sends the volunteers to Israel enjoys tax breaks, as a nonprofit. It is “a surprising juxtaposition”:

As the American government seeks to end the four-decade Jewish settlement enterprise and foster a Palestinian state in the West Bank, the American Treasury helps sustain the settlements through tax breaks on donations to support them.

The Bible-thumping crazies are inside the Treasury! Or, in other words, the secular government of the United States, barred by fundamental Constitutional principles from involvement in religion, has goals and policies that are not identical to the goals and policies of certain religious organizations in the United States. It is as if the church and the state were somehow separated or something.

(Is giving the churches tax breaks an appropriate way to keep the government and the church out of each other’s business, or is it a self-defeating measure that ends up creating a religious establishment? Worth discussing! Not in this story, though.)

Here are some other things that the Times might discover American nonprofits doing, in direct contradiction of United States government policy: