A bipartisan Senate investigative report released this week has found that US State Department grants to OneVoice, meant to further peace in the Middle East, were instead used by Victory 15 to unseat Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu during the 2015 elections.
A State Department grant intended to rally support for peace between Israel and the Palestinians also helped set up political infrastructure that was later used for a campaign opposing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2015, according to a bipartisan Senate investigative report released on Tuesday.
The report found no legal wrongdoing by the State Department, since the $349,000 in grants for OneVoice were used to further the Middle East process as intended. But shortly after Netanyahu called an election for 2015, the voter databases constructed with the grant money were activated for Victory 15, an unsuccessful effort to defeat Netanyahu.
Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) each signed off on the investigation, which was conducted by Portman’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. In releasing the report, Portman criticized the State Department for lax oversight and for undermining a U.S. ally.
“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.”
The investigation is notable for its bipartisan sheen. McCaskill highlighted the conclusion that it showed “no wrongdoing” by President Barack Obama’s administration but said the report “certainly highlights deficiencies in the Department’s policies that should be addressed in order to best protect taxpayer dollars.”
Victory 15 used voter contacts and activists funded by the State Department grant for One Voice to oppose Netanyahu, the report finds, which was not prohibited because there was restriction on how the peace process infrastructure could be used after the grant expired in 2014.
“Despite OneVoice’s previous political activism in the 2013 Israeli election, the 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,” the report found.
Asked to comment on the report, State Department spokesman John Kirby said, “As the report was just released, actually we’ve not had time to go through it closely, so I’m not going to be able to comment on specifics. But I would note that the report makes clear there’s no evidence that OneVoice spent State Department grant funds to influence the Israeli election. Again, I just don’t have additional comment at this time.”