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Opinion NGO connected to Obama’s 2008 campaign used U.S. tax dollars trying to oust Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, left, looks on as U.S. President Barack Obama speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, March 3, 2014.  (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Under the auspices of Chairman Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) has released a report today confirming allegations that an NGO with connections to President Obama’s 2008 campaign used U.S. taxpayer dollars attempting to oust Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2015. President Obama has had the worst relationship of any U.S. president with the elected prime minister of the Jewish State.

A press release states:

Today, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), released a bipartisan report examining the U.S. State Department’s grants to OneVoice—a non-governmental organization operating in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.  The group received nearly $350,000 in grants from the U.S. State Department to support peace negotiations between Israelis and the Palestinian Authority over a 14-month grant period ending in November 2014.  In December 2014, Israeli elections were called following the collapse of peace negotiations.
The Subcommittee’s investigation concludes that OneVoice Israel complied with the terms of its State Department grants. Within days after the grant period ended, however, the group deployed the campaign infrastructure and resources created, in part, using U.S. grant funds to support a political campaign to defeat the incumbent Israeli government known as V15.  That use of government-funded resources for political purposes after the end of the grant period was permitted by the grant because the State Department failed to adequately guard against the risk that campaign resources could be repurposed in that manner or place limitations on the post-grant use of resources.

Sen. Claire McCaskill dutifully defended the administration, ” While this report shows no wrongdoing by the Administration, and should put to rest such allegations, it certainly highlights deficiencies in the Department’s policies that should be addressed in order to best protect taxpayer dollars.”

Asked for a quick summary of the report, Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Portman said:

The campaign’s explicit goal was to elect “anybody but Bibi [Netanyahu]” by mobilizing center-left voters. . . .
The State Department permitted One Voice to use a taxpayer-funded grant to build valuable political infrastructure—large voter contact lists, a professionally trained network of grassroots organizers/activists, and an impressive social media platform—for the putative purpose of supporting peace negotiations. But during the federal grant period, OneVoice devised a plan to target Prime Minister Netanyahu; immediately after the grant period ended, OneVoice deployed its taxpayer-funded campaign resources to launch the largest anti-Netanyahu grassroots organizing campaign in Israel in 2015. Despite OneVoice’s known history of political activism in Israel, the State Department did nothing to guard against the clear risk that OneVoice could engage in electioneering activities using a taxpayer-funded grassroots campaign infrastructure after the grant period. Remarkably, according to the State Department, OneVoice’s conduct was fully compliant with Department regulations and guidelines.

Among the report’s most damning findings, evidence was found that the “durable campaign resources” built during the grant with taxpayer dollars included “a larger voter contact database, a professionally trained network of grassroots activists across the country, and an enhanced social media presence on Facebook and Twitter. OneVoice was even permitted to use State Department funds to hire an American political consulting firm called 270 Strategies — run by Obama 2008 campaign veterans — to train its activists in how to execute a ‘grassroots mobilization’ campaign.”

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While the administration has shown exceptional deference to “moderates” in Iran his administration couldn’t be bothered to avoid gross interference with the elections in the only democratic country in the region.

Netanyahu survived the election, of course, and Obama will not face the voters again. Nevertheless, the report won’t help the unprecedentedly antagonistic relationship between the U.S.’s and Israel’s elected leaders. If an Israeli NGO had attempted to do the same in an American election, there would be howls of protest.

No matter who the next president is, the U.S.-Israel relationship is likely to improve. Nevertheless, Obama’s successor would do well to apologize to Israel for the current president’s divisiveness.