WASHINGTON (JTA) — An NGO did not use U.S. funds in its campaign to unseat Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a Senate inquiry found, and the State Department did not violate policies by funding the NGO.
However, the report issued Tuesday suggested the State Department did not adequately assess the risks of funding the NGO, OneVoice, considering it had previously involved itself in Israeli electoral politics.
The bipartisan Senate Subcommittee on Investigations report was prompted by revelations that OneVoice, a non-partisan group that advocates for a two-state solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict, partnered with a partisan group called V15 ahead of the 2015 Israeli election in a bid to replace Netanyahu with a leader more amenable to a two–state outcome.
“OneVoice Israel fully complied with the terms of its State Department grants,” the report said. “OneVoice designed and executed a grassroots and media campaign to promote public support for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations for the Department, as it said it would.”
The subcommittee also “found no evidence that OneVoice spent grant funds to influence the 2015 Israeli elections.” However, it added, it used “campaign infrastructure and resources built, in part, with State Department grants funds to support V15” once the election season was underway, which fell after the period the grant money was spent and OneVoice’s relationship with the State Department ended.
The report considered more than $300,000 in State Department grants to the Israeli and Palestinian arms of OneVoice, “to support peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine over a 14- month grant period ending in November 2014.” Netanyahu called for the election in December.
OneVoice, in a statement to JTA, said the report reflected its compliance with State Department terms, and noted that the grants in question had the backing of the U.S., Palestinian and Israeli governments.
“The Israeli, Palestinian and U.S. governments all supported the State Department grant that helped to fund One Voice Israel’s work to support peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians,” it said.
The report said that the State Department, in funding OneVoice did not adequately assess the risks of a group that had been politically active in an earlier election.
“Despite OneVoice’s previous political activity in the 2013 Israeli election, the State Department failed to conduct any assessment of the risk that, were an election called, OneVoice would continue its political activities using State-funded resources,” it said.
The State Department “normally” keeps a grant file assessing such risks, it said, but added that the problem was also endemic to State Department policies that do not take into account how grantees might shift to a more partisan posture.
“OneVoice Israel’s conduct fully complied with the terms of its agreements with the State Department and governing grant guidelines,” it said. “The experience under the OneVoice grants, however, reveals the ease with which recipient organizations can repurpose certain public-diplomacy resources for political activities.”
It concluded: “Despite the fact that influencing a foreign election is across a ‘red line’ for U.S. grantees, all of this activity was permissible under Department guidelines and the terms of the grants.”