During the freedom protests in Iran, #NIACLobbies4Mullahs trended on Twitter.
It’s not the first time that Iranian refugees, dissidents and activists have denounced the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and accused it of acting as the “Iran lobby.” But the over 300,000 tweets demonstrated the forceful opposition of Iranians to the regime and to the “Iran lobby.” So did the marchers in Washington, D.C., chanting, “NIAC is not our voice!”
“Iranians expect @TheJusticeDept to look into this hashtag: #NIACLobbies4Mullahs,” tweeted Arash Sobhani, a prominent Iranian-American musician and dissident.
A Justice Department investigation of NIAC for violations of the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) is long overdue, and has been urged by Sen. Tom Cotton and other legislators.
But the pro-Iran group has also maintained a tax-exempt status with the IRS for over 20 years, and that’s all the more remarkable considering the very different treatment of pro-Israel groups.
The New York Times has spent over a decade urging the IRS to investigate pro-Israel non-profits. In 2021, antisemitic congressmembers, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Rep. Andre Carson, who met with Louis Farrakhan, signed a letter urging the Biden administration to crack down on the tax-exempt status of pro-Israel groups.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen “must act to enforce U.S. law and end these organizations’ 501(c)(3) status,” Rep. Tlaib tweeted.
If the Biden administration uses the IRS to go after pro-Israel groups, it will be following up on the work of the Obama administration, which launched an unprecedented effort to shut down pro-Israel groups critical of its foreign policy, including its empowerment of Iran.
In 2009, Z Street founder Lori Lowenthal Marcus applied for tax exempt status for the pro-Israel group. When the IRS refused to move forward, she was told that it “has to give special scrutiny to organizations connected to Israel.”
NIAC was never subject to this special level of scrutiny. Nor was the American Iranian Council, whose founder had run for the presidency of Iran and at whose events Sen. Joe Biden had appeared.
In 2009, Eli Lake, then of The Washington Times, warned that communications between NIAC founder Trita Paris and Iran’s U.N. ambassador “offer evidence that the group has operated as an undeclared lobby and may be guilty of violating tax laws, the Foreign Agents Registration Act and lobbying disclosure laws.”
IFMAT, an Iranian dissident site, alleged that “according to NIAC’s own documents released during the lawsuit, the organization used to ‘defraud IRS [and] did not report lobbying.’”
The IRS, however, appeared to show little interest in NIAC, and instead went after pro-Israel groups. While pro-Israel groups were asked to “explain their religious beliefs about the Land of Israel,” there’s no sign that NIAC has been asked to explain Shi’ite religious beliefs about Iran.
Before founding NIAC, Trita Parsi had created “Iranians for International Cooperation,” which admitted that it existed to “safeguard Iran’s and Iranian interests.” The same IRS which had asked of a pro-Israel group, “Does your organization support the existence of the land of Israel?” did not seem especially interested in whether NIAC supported an Islamic terror state.
Parsi then moved on to the American Iranian Council before founding NIAC, allegedly in coordination with Hamyaran, an organization created by the Iranian government.
The IRS, however, decided to go after pro-Israel groups instead. Five of these groups were audited at the same time, even as revelations about NIAC were emerging. “Israel is one of many Middle Eastern countries that have a ‘higher risk of terrorism,’” an IRS manager argued.
Israel had a higher risk of terrorism because Iran was targeting it with a terror campaign. But instead of scrutinizing the terrorists, the IRS decided that the victims of Islamic terrorism were the ones who really needed investigating.
In 2018, the case by Z Street was finally settled, after eight years of litigation.
Lori Lowenthal Marcus told Front Page Magazine that, “One of the excuses given to Z Street by an IRS official was that the IRS had to make sure we were not ‘engaged in terrorism’ because we mentioned ‘terror’ in our mission statement. The part of Z Street’s mission that mentioned terror? ‘We will not engage with, negotiate with or appease terrorists.’ Yet Z Street’s application for 501(c)(3) status was sidelined for seven years while Z Street litigated the IRS’s unconstitutional application of Viewpoint Discrimination against us.”
The IRS demonstrated that when it came to Z Street and other pro-Israel groups, it was willing and able to scrutinize, investigate and harass them. It has demonstrated the same thing with conservative groups. It is not, however, willing to apply that same standard to the “Iran lobby.”
And the reasons may be obvious.
NIAC Action, its sister PAC, endorsed Biden and declared, “Our long, national nightmare is almost over. AP has called the race for Joe Biden.”
Jamal Abdi, the executive director of NIAC Action, was one of Biden’s bundlers, and claimed that its members had dominated phone banks and donated $385,000 to Biden.
“It’s an obscene joke that NIAC was given and retains the U.S. government’s permission to provide its donors with the ability to write off their tax donations to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s U.S. cheerleading squad,” said Marcus.
In Iran, protesters are putting their lives on the line for freedom. And some of them are calling for a long overdue investigation of the “Iran lobby” and its influence over American politics.
NIAC Action’s recent endorsements include Rep. Katie Porter, who now aspires to the Senate, Rep. Ro Khanna, who is seen as the successor for the Bernie Sanders camp and a possible presidential candidate, and antisemitic figures like Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib.
After over two decades of neglect by the IRS, NIAC has gained unprecedented influence.
NIAC’s nonprofit status is evidence of a glaring double standard at the IRS, and of a national security crisis.
Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical left and Islamic terrorism.
This is an edited version of an article first published by FrontPage Magazine.
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