NGO used US tax dollars in anti-Netanyahu election campaign, Senate finds

July 12, 2016 20:10

The OneVoice campaign was funded in part by their State Department grant, the report found.

3 minute read.

Benjamin Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his speech to US Congress on March 3, 2015, with US Speaker of the House John Boehner and President pro tempore of the US Senate Orrin Hatch applauding behind him. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The Senate subcommittee on investigations published a report on Tuesday finding that OneVoice, an international non-profit organization once funded by the State Department, actively campaigned against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during Israel’s 2015 parliamentary elections.

Their campaign was funded in part by their State Department grant, the report found.

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OneVoice entered headlines in 2015 after absorbing V15, an Israeli group that actively campaigned against the Netanyahu government.

One year earlier, OneVoice had successfully secured a $300,000 State Department grant.

V15 founder Nimrod Dweck responded by highlighting the conclusion of the report – that State Department funds allocated to OneVoice were not used during the period of V15’s campaign.

“The campaign was funded solely by private individuals, Israelis and Jews in Israel and abroad,” Dweck said.

OneVoice defended itself, noting in a statement that the Senate report found the group in full compliance with the terms of its grants.

“The subcommittee ‘found no evidence that OneVoice spent grant funds to influence the 2015 Israeli elections,’” OneVoice noted, quoting from the report. “The subcommittee also praised OneVoice for its cooperation and for being ‘forthright’ with the State Department about its work.”

“The State Department grant concluded before Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu issued his surprise call for early elections,” they added. “OneVoice will continue its important work promoting peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Aron Shaviv, the Likud’s strategist in the 2015 election, said the report proved that his party faced more than the Zionist Union in the race.

Shaviv highlighted on his Twitter feed the parts of the report indicating that the infrastructure used against Netanyahu and the strategy for defeating the prime minister were developed during the State Department grant period, and that top officials at the US Embassy were aware of V15’s plans.

“We went up against Obama’s team and won!” Shaviv wrote on Twitter.

Shaviv said Israeli authorities should investigate V15, because he believed the report proved that the organization broke multiple Israeli laws. He said a petition he filed against V15 in the Central Elections Committee should also be reopened.

A high ranking Zionist Union official mocked Shaviv’s statements.

“Bibi won because he incited against 20% of the Israeli population [Arab citizens] and lied to the public,” the official said. “Any other bragging by the Likud is not true.”

The Senate subcommittee found that OneVoice fully complied with the terms of its State Department grant, designing and executing “a grassroots and media campaign to promote public support for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations for the department, as it said it would.”

In 2015, State Department officials denied any knowledge of OneVoice’s campaign against Netanyahu, or any connection between that campaign and its grant funding.

“The subcommittee found no evidence that OneVoice spent grant funds to influence the 2015 Israeli elections,” the report concludes. “Soon after the grant period ended, however, OneVoice used the campaign infrastructure and resources built, in part, with State Department grant funds to support V15.”

The Senate report also says the State Department “failed to take any steps to guard against the risk that OneVoice could engage in political activities using State-funded grassroots campaign infrastructure after the grant period.”

Notably, this investigation was signed off by members of both parties – unusual for this type of Senate report. Subcommittee chairman Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and member Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) drew different conclusions from the same findings, however: Portman said that the State Department “ignored warning signs” of OneVoice’s political activism, while McCaskill highlighted the fact that the report found no wrongdoing on the part of the Obama administration.

Likud MK Yoav Kisch, who initiated bills against V15, said the report was a scandal and proved that “the American government blatantly tried to overthrow the Israeli government with money.” He vowed to pass his bills to prevent future efforts.

Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin said the report proved the need for the NGO bill that passed into law Monday night to protect Israel from the “blatant interference of foreign governments and their dangerous plans for us.”

Netanyahu did not respond to the report.

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