Senate said probing US ties to anti-Netanyahu group

Legislators looking into State Department’s past funding of peace advocacy group that is supporting Israeli ‘V15’ campaign, Fox News reports

V15 activists convene at their campaign offices in Jerusalem on February 09, 2015. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
V15 activists convene at their campaign offices in Jerusalem on February 09, 2015. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

An investigatory bi-partisan panel has been convened in order to probe allegations that the US State Department gave a political group that opposes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu taxpayer-funded grants, a source with knowledge of the proceedings told Fox News on Saturday.

The news broke a day after Netanyahu told The Times of Israel that it didn’t require “a tremendous leap of imagination” to believe that the Obama Administration wants to see him gone as prime minister.

The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations has agreed to look into charges that the State Department helped fund OneVoice and thus indirectly funded its affiliate V15 — created by Israeli activists ahead of Tuesday’s election as a concentrated, grassroots effort to unseat Netanyahu.

The Senate committee would not comment on the report, but a source speaking with Fox News claimed it was investigating the State Department’s funding of the OneVoice Movement which has, to date, received $350,000 in departmental grants.

Founded in 2002 by American entrepreneur Daniel Lubetzky, OneVoice is an organization that seeks to assist the Israeli-Palestinian peace process by connecting between ordinary citizens and working towards a two-state solution.

The State Department last funded the group in November 2014, State Department officials told Fox News — one month before Knesset elections were called.

OneVoice spokesperson Payton Knox denied the group was working with the administration to unseat Netanyahu.

“OneVoice is eager to cooperate with any inquiry,” he said Saturday. “And after a fair examination, we are confident no wrong doing will be found.”

Likud had 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 (and) the United States,” and of “intervention by international actors who are interested in deposing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”

However, Likud last month dropped a legal bid to bar the operations of the V15 organization, after party lawmakers admitted that there was insufficient evidence to prove the left-wing group had ties to the Zionist Union and its leader, Isaac Herzog, or to any other political faction.

Activists from the V15 organization on February 17, 2015 (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Activists from the V15 organization on February 17, 2015 (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In January Republican lawmakers asked the Obama administration to explain the involvement OneVoice 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-New York) sent on January 29 to Secretary of State John Kerry.

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

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, 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.”

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.

The V15 group is known to be partially financed by American billionaire S. Daniel Abraham, a philanthropist who has donated millions of dollars to various institutions in the Jewish state.

Netanyahu on Friday told the Times of Israel in an interview that there was an effort by left-leaning international players “to try to bring down the Likud and me.

“They are conducting a campaign with tens of millions of dollars under the banner, ‘Anyone but Bibi,’” Netanyahu said.

“They realize that (the Israeli left) will capitulate to all the dictates the international left wants to impose on Israel,” he claimed.

Asked whether the Obama administration — whose emerging deal on Iran he went to congress 10 days ago to publicly oppose — should be counted among those who want to see him gone, Netanyahu said dryly that this didn’t require “a tremendous leap of imagination.”

JTA and Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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