Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu and U.S. President
Barack Obama. (AP)
According to the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), the State Department gave $349,276 in U.S. taxpayer-funded grants to a political group in Israel to build a campaign operation, which subsequently was used to try to influence Israelis to vote against conservative Benjamin Netanyahu in the March 2015 election for prime minister.
In the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations report about the State Department’s action, Chairman Bob Portman (R-Ohio) said, “It is completely unacceptable that U.S. taxpayer dollars were used to build a political campaign infrastructure that was deployed — immediately after the grant ended — against the leader [Netanyahu] of our closest ally in the Middle East. American resources should be used to help our allies in the region, not undermine them.”
“The State Department ignored warning signs and funded a politically active group in a politically sensitive environment with inadequate safeguards,” said Portman in a July 12, 2016 press release.
The State Department had funded a series of grants in 2013-2014, totaling $349,276, which went to the One Voice Movement, which has Israeli and Palestinian branches: One Voice Israel and One Voice Palestine. (The grant period ended in November 2014.) These groups support peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine, and a two-state solution based on the borders of 1967.
Sen. Bob Portman (R-Ohio). (AP)
The Subcommittee’s report says, “On December 2, 2014, at the urging of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Knesset voted to schedule new national parliamentary elections for March 2015.
“Within weeks, an international organization known as the OneVoice Movement absorbed and funded an Israeli group named Victory15 or ‘V15’ and launched a multimillion-dollar grassroots campaign in Israel. The campaign’s goal was to elect ‘anybody but Bibi [Netanyahu]’ by mobilizing center-left voters….
“The Subcommittee found no evidence that OneVoice spent grant funds to influence the 2015 Israeli elections. Soon after the grant period ended [November 2014], however, OneVoice used the campaign infrastructure and resources built, in part, with State Department grants funds to support V15. (Emphasis added.)
“In service of V15, OneVoice deployed its social media platform, which more than doubled during the State Department grant period; used its database of voter contact information, including email addresses, which OVI expanded during the grant period; and enlisted its network of trained activists, many of whom were recruited or trained under the grant, to support and recruit for V15.”
OneVoice even informed the State Department about its anti-Netanyahu campaign “during the federal grant period,” said Marc Thiessen, a resident fellow of the American Enterprise Institute. “But the State Department did nothing.”
Benjamin Netanyahu voting in the March 17, 2015 election in Israel. (AP)
As the Subcommittee reported, “This pivot to electoral politics was consistent with a strategic plan developed by OneVoice leadership and emailed to State Department officials during the grant period.”
One of the State Department diplomats “who received the plan told the Subcommittee that he never reviewed it,” reads the report. The proposal was entitled A Strategic Plan to Mobilize Centrist Israeli & Palestinian.
Part of the plan’s objective was to “strengthen the [center-left] bloc, rather than any one party, [and] in tandem weaken Netanyahu and his right wing parties,” quotes the Subcommittee report.
“Additionally, the proposal listed seven ‘Specific Israeli Tactical Objectives.’ The second objective was clear: ‘Shift support within the Knesset from a Likud-centric coalition to a center left coalition through public education and grassroots mobilization initiatives.’”
However, “OneVoice’s use of government-funded resources for political purposes was not prohibited by the grant agreement because the State Department placed no limitations on the post-grant use of those resources,” according to the Subcommittee. (Emphasis added)
“Despite OneVoice’s previous political activism in the 2013 Israeli election,” said the Subcommittee, “the Department failed to take any steps to guard against the risk that One Voice could engage in political activities using State-funded grassroots campaign infrastructure after the grant period.”
In fact, “after the State Department grant period ended, OneVoice shifted its focus to influencing the electoral outcome by working to defeat incumbent Prime Minister Netanyahu,” said the Subcommittee. “Planning for this effort began during the period when OneVoice was still a State Department grantee.” (Emphasis added.)
“OneVoice did not use State Department funds directly for political activities, or seek State Department grants in anticipation of the Israeli elections, but it did use the campaign infrastructure and resources that it had built, in part, with State Department funds to support a campaign to defeat Prime Minister Netanyahu in the 2015 elections,” said the Subcommittee. (Emphasis added.)
In conclusion, the Subcommittee stated, “Immediately after the grant period ended, OneVoice deployed those grant-funded resources as part of the V15 campaign to defeat Prime Minister Netanyahu in 2015.
“Despite the fact that influencing a foreign election is across a ‘red line’ for U.S. grantees, all of this activity was permissible under Department guidelines and the terms of the grants.”
Benjamin Netanyahu was re-elected prime minister of Israel on Mar. 17, 2015.
Orthodox Jews wait in line to vote in Israel, March 17, 2015. (AP)
John McLaughlin, whose polling firm did work for Netanyahu’s Likud Party, said in late March 2015, according to The Hill, "What was not well reported in the American media is that President Obama and his allies were playing in the election to defeat Prime Minister Netanyahu.”
"There was money moving that included taxpayer U.S. dollars, through non-profit organizations,” said McLaughlin. “And there were various liberal groups in the United States that were raising millions to fund a campaign called V15 against Prime Minister Netanyahu.”
McLaughlin further claimed there was an effort "to organize the [Israeli] Arabs into one party and teach them about voter turnout."
"The State Department people in the end of January, early February, expedited visas for [Israeli] Arab leaders to come to the United States to learn how to vote," McLaughlin said.
"There were people in the United States that were organizing them to vote in one party so they would help the left-of-center candidate, Herzog, that the Obama administration favored," he said.
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), on Fox’s Justice with Judge Jeanine, Mar. 22, 2015, said, “They were running an ACORN, Obama Organizing for America-type campaign over there with the digital ads, the billboards, the phones. They were targeting Israeli voters.”
Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), the ranking member of the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, said of the July 2016 report, “While this report shows no wrongdoing by the Administration, and should put to rest such allegations, it certainly highlights deficiencies in the Department’s policies that should be addressed in order to best protect taxpayer dollars.”
Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). (AP)