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A public policy blog from AEI
In February 2015, I reported in my Washington Post column on the revelation that Obama’s 2012 national field director, Jeremy Bird, was headed to Tel Aviv to manage a grass-roots campaign to oust Prime Minsiter Netanyahu. I noted at the time that Bird would not be working to defeat Netanyahu if he thought Obama opposed it (can you imagine Karl Rove going to London while George W. Bush was in office to help conservatives oust Prime Minister Tony Blair?) and that the group behind Bird’s anti-Netanyahu effort – OneVoice – had received State Department funding and listed the State Department as a “partner” on its Web site.
Now, a new bipartisan Congressional report from Senators Rob Portman (R) and Claire McCaskill (D), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) examining the US State Department’s grants to OneVoice, has concluded that the group in fact used federal money to build a campaign organization later used to try and defeat Netanyahu.
According to the report:
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, however, OneVoice used the campaign infrastructure and resources built, in part, with State Department grants funds to support V15. 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.
Amazingly, One Voice had informed the State Department about its plans for an anti-Netanyahu campaign during the federal grant period, but the State Department did nothing. The report declares:
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. The State Department diplomat who received the plan told the Subcommittee that he never reviewed it.
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. Despite OneVoice’s previous political activism in the 2013 Israeli election, the 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.
The message to Israeli voters was unmistakable.
It’s important to note that OneVoice’s efforts against Netanyahu’s re-election did not happen in a vacuum. They came in the context of a broader campaign of veiled threats and anonymous leaks from the Obama administration designed to hurt the Israeli prime minister’s chances at the polls. Secretary of State John F. Kerry had warned (through an anonymous aide) that Netanyahu’s decision to a joint meeting of Congress in support of new sanctions on Iran was “playing politics with that relationship could blunt [Kerry’s] enthusiasm for being Israel’s primary defender.” A senior administration official had declared ominously to Haaretz that “President Obama has a year and a half left to his presidency, and that there will be a price.” A member of “Obama’s inner circle” launched an attack against Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer in the New York Times, accusing him of having “repeatedly placed Mr. Netanyahu’s political fortunes above the relationship between Israel and the United States.” The Times noted “Such officially authorized criticisms of diplomats from major allies are unusual.”
The message to Israeli voters was unmistakable: If they re-elect Netanyahu, Israel will pay a “price.” Israeli’s rejected that message. But now we know that part of apparatus used to deliver that message was funded by the US tax payer via the US Department of State.
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