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Saturday, August 10, 2019

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Israel will be sanctioned, she said, and could even lose its status as a member of the OECD, if it fails to uphold a financial information-sharing treaty it has signed with governments around the world. In the wake of the September 11, , attacks and whistleblower revelations about secret Swiss bank accounts, the United States and other OECD countries began to crack down on international tax havens and money laundering. Israel has signed on to the CRS but has yet to pass into law the regulations allowing it to implement it.

The main sticking point preventing passage of the regulations is gemachim , or ultra Orthodox free-loan societies. A gemach is a free-loan society run by volunteers that allows members of the community to deposit money and and others to receive loans interest-free.

Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni United Torah Judaism refuses to pass the CRS regulations without a promise that the activity of gemachim will be largely exempt from oversight. But Gafni is adamant that they be regulated with a very light touch lest the fabric of this important Haredi social and cultural institution be torn.

But several experts on the economy of the ultra-Orthodox community say that gemachim , even though they are nonprofit organizations, have become a multibillion dollar Israeli industry that poses unknown risks to the economy if it remains unmonitored and unregulated.

Among those arrested were mayors of several New Jersey towns as well as five rabbis from Brooklyn and New Jersey. The rabbis had been operating an international money laundering scheme that involved accepting tax-deductible donations to a gemach in the United States; taking a fee, usually 10 percent; then returning the remaining 90 percent of the donation to the donor, in cash. According to reports in the media, the cash for this scheme often came from Israel, where money laundering laws, until recently, were lax.

In one scene in the book, an Orthodox Jewish FBI informant meets a man named Levi Deutsch from Israel who suggests that he and the informant go into the money laundering business together. Deutsch explains that when he gets money from a client, he opens several gemachim in the United States and puts a little bit of the money in each, so that no one transaction looks suspicious.

He takes a commission of several percentage points on each deposit. Several experts told The Times of Israel that such blatant money laundering through gemachim is less prevalent than it was ten years ago as a consequence of anti-money laundering measures taken by the Israeli government, but that it still exists.

They did it quietly. Every money service provider now has to report transactions over a certain amount, and banks in Haredi neighborhoods are being monitored more closely. It has become illegal to buy apartments in cash. The reason for this crackdown, said Horowitz, is American pressure. Last year, at the behest of the FBI, a Haredi money laundering ring of about 20 people was arrested in Israel for allegedly laundering money for South American drug cartels.

Two years ago, The Times of Israel was told, FBI agents paid a visit to Israel specifically to express their concerns about money laundering in the Haredi community. He hands over the cash, and his contact puts it in a gemach. Everyone takes a cut and they return the money through a legal project like the construction of a new building.

Ari Weisbrot, a New York-based lawyer who represents victims of fraud, told The Times of Israel that only a tiny minority of the Orthodox community engages in such crimes. The economist cited this Talmudic phrase to make the point that even gemachim , which he views as the noblest of charities, can be abused if they are not regulated. Weisbrot said there are two reasons why criminals might like to launder money through the Haredi community in Israel.

I could use the money to buy a house in Florida but someone might trace the money to me. He did, though, urge a course of realism and a new strategy for pursuing liberal policies. Those strike me as wise words as we stand at the brink of what might yet come to be called the Trump court.

And they are words to mark for the conservative caucus, too. I will never forget arriving at the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal in the summer of One of the first assignments I drew was to go to Washington to meet an obscure freshman congressman. His name was Newt Gingrich. He had the crazy idea that it would be possible for the GOP to win control of the House. It seemed fantastic, hard even to imagine. It would take Gingrich 14 years to craft his Contract With America that, in , helped win the House.

In the generation since, Democrats have controlled the House for only two terms. Liberals have counted on the Supreme Court to ram through their policies and programs. Beginning in the s, liberals have won from the Supreme Court such victories as, to name but a few, birth control, abortion and same-sex marriage. And more power to them. But relying on the court to overturn the popular will as expressed through legislated law has costs.

It generates a resentment that has been, to judge by the last election, way underestimated by the left. Hence the logic of turning to — forgive my coarse language — politics.

Seth Lipsky