A Senate report — in spite of itself — tells all.
It turns out that back in 2013 the State Department donated $350,000 to an NGO called OneVoice. The supposed aim was to enable OneVoice’s Israeli and Palestinian branches “to support peace negotiations.”
Since that was not a partisan political aim, the State Department’s funding of the NGO was seemingly kosher. But things — as detailed in a report released Tuesday by a bipartisan Senate subcommittee — got tricky.
The State Department authorized OneVoice to use the grant for a 14-month period ending in November 2014. OneVoice, as noted by the Times of Israel, used the funds to create an “organizational infrastructure” — and then, when the 14 months expired, handed over that organizational infrastructure to another Israeli group, known as V15, that was partisan with a vengeance.
The V in V15 stands for victory. It so happened that, in December 2014, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the Knesset to dissolve itself, which it did, and new elections were held in March 2015. V15’s aim was, pure and simple, to defeat Netanyahu and replace him with a center-left candidate; their slogan was “Anyone but Bibi.”
As the report by the subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs describes it:
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… and enlisted its network of trained activists, many of whom were recruited or trained under the grant, to support and recruit for V15.
But it goes beyond that. It turns out OneVoice told the State Department in advance that it was planning a “pivot to electoral politics.” But the U.S. official who received the email with that information — Consul General in Jerusalem Michael Ratney — claimed he never opened it.
As the Senate report states: “Mr. Ratney told the subcommittee that he remembered the email but is ‘quite sure’ he did not read the attachment, nor did he respond to it.” As Ratney explicated: “At times I deleted emails with attachments I didn’t need in order to maintain my inbox under the storage limit.”
If it sounds fishy, it gets fishier. The subcommittee report says the State Department should have taken note of the fact that in the previous Israeli elections, early in 2013, OneVoice had already engaged in partisan political activity — of course, in the anti-Netanyahu camp.
But did that fact really slip the State Department’s attention?
The subcommittee report does not charge the State Department with illegality in funding OneVoice. Politico notes that one of the report’s coauthors, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.),
highlighted the conclusion that it showed “no wrongdoing” by President Barack Obama’s administration but said the report “certainly highlights deficiencies in the Department’s policies that should be addressed in order to best protect taxpayer dollars.”
The other coauthor, Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio), had stronger words:
“The State Department ignored warning signs and funded a politically active group in a politically sensitive environment with inadequate safeguards,” Portman 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 of our closest ally in the Middle East.”
And yet, considering the administration’s antipathy toward Netanyahu, and wholehearted endorsement of the quasi-religious belief — shared by the Israeli left and much of the international community — that his replacement by a center-left leader would usher in an age of peace, is it plausible that the State Department is merely guilty of “deficiencies,” “ignor[ing] warning signs,” failing to open emails, and the like?
In short, it isn’t. Soon after Israel’s March 2015 election, as the Times of Israel notes:
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.
The Senate report — despite its mincing, circumspect language — bears out what was already known in Israel at the time.
Of course, the attempt to oust Netanyahu failed as he was reelected in a landslide. These days, as he signs a reconciliation agreement with Turkey, forges new ties with African countries, and develops relations with Egypt and other Arab countries, Netanyahu should seemingly be a hero of aficionados of harmony between nations. But, for many, he’s too precious a hate-figure for that.