Likud accuses left of breaking election laws

At press conference, MKs say V15 movement is illegally funded, has ties to Zionist Camp; US lawmakers ask State to investigate

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Likud parliament member Ofir Akunis seen at a press conference of the Likud political party in Tel Aviv on February 01, 2015. (photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)
Likud parliament member Ofir Akunis seen at a press conference of the Likud political party in Tel Aviv on February 01, 2015. (photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

The Likud party held a press conference in Tel Aviv Sunday to offer evidence of what it called illegal campaign financing on the left.

At the event, which featured Likud Knesset members Ofir Akunis, Miri Regev, Tzipi Hotovely and Yariv Levin, as well as Likud lawyer David Shimron, the party’s representatives alleged that its rival left-wing bloc had illegal ties to the ostensibly grassroots V15 get-out-the-vote movement.

“The people who stand behind V15 are groups that have a direct connection to the Zionist Camp and Labor Party,” Shimron said.

In addition, he claimed that two left-wing non-Israeli Jews — S. Daniel Abraham and Daniel Lubetsky — backed V15 financially, which would constitute a criminal violation of two election laws.

V15, short for Victory 2015, describes itself on its website as “a supra-party movement that was established by a group of young Israelis along with the announcement of elections” in December of last year. Its aim is to “change the dispiriting reality” in Israel and “take Israel to a new path.”

“We don’t belong to and don’t work for the advancement of a particular party,” V15 says on its website. “Our aim is larger than the personal preference of each of us.”

Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Likud charged that the V15 group “operates with aid from radical leftist groups such as OneVoice and Molad, which are supported by millions of dollars flowing in from Europe, the United States and the New Israel Fund,” and of “intervention by international actors who are interested in deposing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”

OneVoice was founded in 2002, during the Second Intifada, to promote Israeli-Palestinian dialogue and the two-state solution.

As proof of the connection between V15 and Zionist Camp, Shimron pointed to links to V15’s website that the Zionist Camp had shared on its Facebook page.

The Likud members also alleged that Zionist Camp candidates Danny Atar and Yoel Hasson, and former Labor MKs Ephraim Sneh, Collete Avital and Michael Melchior, were linked to the leaders of OneVoice.

Hasson denied the allegations, according to Haaretz, saying that when he was a member of Likud he had taken part in activities in which OneVoice was also involved, and that other Likud MKs had done so as well.

Sunday’s press conference followed the party’s appeal to the Central Elections Committee on Friday to halt V15’s activities, claiming it violated a campaign advertising law and campaign funding law.

“It’s a grave violation of the elections law that establishes a criminal ban on donations by foreign sources to political parties in Israel,” the Likud presenters said at the press conference.

V15 denied the charges, and said that “the Netanyahus and Likud gathered so many recycled bottles that they are convinced that they will be able to make imaginary genies come out of them… V15 activists will continue to capture the junctions and the street, while they continue to recycle and hallucinate.” This was a dig at Netanyahu over recent reports that his wife, Sara, had thousands of recyclable bottles returned to the supermarket and pocketed the deposit money.

In its own response to Likud’s allegations, the Zionist Camp mentioned a series of alleged past scandals involving Netanyahu.

US lawmakers press state on OneVoice funding

Last week two Republican lawmakers asked the Obama administration to explain the involvement of a State Department-funded dialogue group with V15.

“There appears to be a danger that US taxpayer funds are being used to directly shape the outcome of the upcoming Israeli election – and specifically to campaign against Prime Minister Netanyahu – something all would agree would be highly inappropriate,” said the letter Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Lee Zeldin (D-NY) sent January 29 to Secretary of State John Kerry.

The letter arose from reports in Haaretz that Jeremy Bird, the national field director for President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign, is leading the get-out-the-vote effort, which is partnered with the OneVoice movement.

Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, in statements on January 28 and January 29, said that OneVoice had received $233,500 in 2014, disbursed before the Israeli elections were called and before it partnered with V15.

US State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki (photo credit: AFP/Paul J. Richards)
US State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki (photo credit: AFP/Paul J. Richards)

“That grant ran from September of 2013 to November of 2014,” Psaki said January 28. “During the period of the grant, as is standard practice, the US Embassy approved OneVoice Israel’s implementation plan for the grant and monitored its performance,” she said. “And, as is routine for such a grant, final payments are disbursed after the grantee provides documentation showing completion of the grant terms.”

The V15 campaign does not name Netanyahu, although it is clear it wants the government replaced; one T-shirt slogan declares, “It’s simple, there’s a change.”

Bird is following a long tradition of US campaign advisers working for Israelis; Netanyahu initiated the practice in the 1990s, and Israeli parties including Likud have used ex-US presidential campaign advisers in past elections.

Zeldin and Cruz cast their questions in the context of the refusal by Obama and other administration officials to meet with Netanyahu during his trip to Washington next month to give a speech to Congress. Obama and officials of his administration say any meeting would be inappropriate just two weeks before Israelis go to the polls.

JTA and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

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