The US government supported a group that tried to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last year to the tune of nearly $350,000, or NIS 1.3 million, a Senate inquiry published Tuesday found, though it cleared the State Department of any wrongdoing.
The bipartisan probe found no illegal activity in funding the OneVoice group, which became the V15 campaign to oust Netanyahu, though its report chided the State Department for having failed to prevent state funds being used, albeit legally and indirectly, to influence an allied country’s internal political process.
According to the report, authored by the permanent subcommittee on investigations of the Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, the State Department gave grants totaling $349,276 to One Voice’s Israeli and Palestinian branches “to support peace negotiations” over a 14-month grant period that ended in November 2014.
After that period, the organizational infrastructure created with these funds was used by V15, a group that actively called on Israel’s to vote for “anyone but Bibi [Netanyahu]” during last year’s general election.
Netanyahu urged the Knesset to vote to dissolve itself on December 2, 2014, leading to new elections in March of 2015. V15 spent considerable efforts trying to convince Israeli voters that Netanyahu had to be replaced by a candidate for the center-left. Netanyahu’s Likud party and other right-wing groups derided the group at the time for using “foreign funding” to try to unseat him.
Days after the March 2015 election, a senior Israeli official accused the White House of being directly involved in trying to oust Netanyahu.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Times of Israel at the time that “it’s no secret” that the Obama administration attempted to influence the outcome of the election, having been partially motivated by a desire for revenge over Netanyahu’s polarizing speech before Congress earlier that month, which sought to undermine the president’s key foreign policy initiative – a nuclear deal with Iran.
The State Department paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayers grants to an Israeli group that used the money to build a campaign to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in last year’s Israeli parliamentary elections, a congressional investigation concluded Tuesday.
Some $350,000 was sent to OneVoice, ostensibly to support the group’s efforts to back Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement negotiations. But OneVoice used the money to build a voter database, train activists and hire a political consulting firm with ties to President Obama’s campaign — all of which set the stage for an anti-Netanyahu campaign, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations said in a bipartisan staff report.
In one stunning finding, the subcommittee said OneVoice even told the State Department’s top diplomat in Jerusalem of its plans in an email, but the official, Consul General Michael Ratney, claims never to have seen them.
He said he regularly deleted emails with large attachments — a striking violation of open-records laws for a department already reeling from former Secretary Hillary Clinton’s handling of official government records.
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