Obama administration officials “took no action” to stop the Department of State-financed group called OneVoice International when it launched a campaign to topple Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to a bipartisan Senate staff report issued Tuesday.
The report is the first official confirmation of Obama administration political meddling in the 2015 Israeli national elections. Republican and Democratic members of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations endorsed the report.
It’s likely to rekindle anger within Israel over the anti-Netanyahu tilt expressed by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her successor, Secretary of State John Kerry.
Neither Clinton nor Kerry attempted to block the award of U.S. tax dollars to the group despite its public intervention in Israeli politics.
“OneVoice’s track record of involvement in Israeli elections did not deter the State Department from making the grants,” the report said. “The subcommittee’s investigation revealed that, during the grant period, OneVoice developed a political strategy designed to defeat the incumbent Israeli government.”
The report also said, “the State Department failed to adequately guard against the risk that resources built with government grants would be deployed for political purposes.”
The subcommittee also found “there were regular meetings between State Department officials and grantee representatives, including some 26 meetings or events recorded by the U.S. embassy that were held between various officials and OneVoice.”
Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio said “it is completely unacceptable that U.S. taxpayer dollars were used to build a political campaign infrastructure that was deployed against the leader of our closest ally in the Middle East. The State Department ignored warnings signs and funded a politically active group in a politically sensitive environment with inadequate safeguards.”
At one point, some State Department officials expressed discomfort about the group’s anti-Israel messaging, including promotional materials “proclaiming Jerusalem to be the holy capital of Palestine.”
Even so, OneVoice received a grant of $465,000 which included the payment of $40,000 to 270 Strategies, OneVoice’s consulting firm.
270 Strategies is an American political consulting firm founded by Jeremy Bird and Mitch Stewart, two senior campaign staff for Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign.
Former Ambassador Marc Ginsberg, who served during President Jimmy Carter’s administration and was the U.S. ambassador to Morocco under President Bill Clinton, was CEO of OneVoice at the time.
Ginsberg received $211,000 in income, according to the 2014 tax filing for the parent organization, called the Peaceworks Foundation
Jewish billionaire Daniel Lubetzky underwrites Peaceworks. The group reported in 2014 net assets of $3.8 million.
In 2016, Lubetzky donated $7,300 to the Democratic National Committee and $2,700 to presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016.
In an email obtained by the subcommittee, Ginsberg “circulated a ‘roadmap strategy” and said 270 Strategies “has become an essential partner” for the group.
OneVoice “resources would be deployed to disrupt the Netanyahu-led coalition by pushing for the ‘defection’ of “center/center-left political parties,” the report said.
The staff stated the “Definition of Success” would be “forcing the [Netanyahu- led] coalition to collapse,” according to a OneVoice memo.
“As described by its CEO, OneVoice’s objective was to use its grassroots- organizing resources to become a decisive influence in the next election,” according to the report.
OneVoice was not coy about its political ambitions in its discussions with federal officials.
“OneVoice was candid with the State Department regarding its past political involvement. Less than six months before seeking State Department funds, [OneVoice] had operated a grassroots campaign in the 2013 Israeli parliamentary elections to help ‘increase[e] the number of center-left seats in the [Israeli] Knesset’—which it described as one of its “Strategic Milestones,” according to the report.
“When the Netanyahu coalition government collapsed, OneVoice shifted its focus to influencing the electoral outcome by working to defeat incumbent Prime Minister Netanyahu. Planning for this effort began during the period when OneVoice was still a State Department grantee.”
OneVoice did not directly use State Department funds for political activities, “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,” the report said.
OneVoice “absorbed” the Israeli anti-Netanyahu group called “Victory 15” or V15. “V15 had no further independent organizational existence,” the report said. “There was no legal entity known as V15 in Israel or the United States. V15 had no separate bank account.”
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