A U.S. Senate subcommittee has substantiated allegations that the State Department gave financial support to an NGO which backed a campaign against Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Israel’s 2015 elections.
The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations published its findings on Tuesday, stating that the non-governmental organization OneVoice, which had absorbed Victory15, an Israeli group working to defeat Netanyahu, had received $300,000 in a grant from the State Dept. prior to the Israeli election campaign.
“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 grants funds to support V15.”
“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.”
“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,” the report stated.
The report noted that 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.”
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who heads the subcommittee, concluded:
“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.”
However, it cleared the White House of any direct involvement in improper disbursements, according to Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who sits on the subcommittee.
While it indicated “no wrongdoing” by President Barack Obama’s administration, it “certainly highlights deficiencies in the Department’s policies that should be addressed in order to best protect taxpayer dollars,” she said.
In 2015, State Department officials denied any knowledge of OneVoice’s campaign against Netanyahu or any connection between that campaign and its grant funding.