US Taxpayers Funding Anti-Netanyahu Campaign?
Two U.S. lawmakers have sent a letter to the State Department, asking whether President Barack Obama has "launched a political campaign" against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and whether American taxpayers are helping to fund the campaign.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas and Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y. sent a letter this week asking the State Department to explain whether a non-profit group called One Voice, supported by U.S. tax dollars, is working with a campaign called Operation Victory 2015 (V15) to influence Israel's elections, to be held March 17.
The lawmakers called taxpayer funding for such a purpose "completely unacceptable."
"State Department grants should never be given to entities working to overthrow strong allies like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu," Zeldin said Thursday. "Today, I join with Sen. Ted Cruz in calling for a U.S. Department of State investigation into this important matter."
In an article earlier this week, the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz highlighted the work of Jeremy Bird, a political strategist who helped organize a door-to-door effort for the Obama campaign against Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary in South Carolina. The effort was very successful, and it helped to break open a dead even race between the two candidates, eventually leading to Obama's nomination and election.
This year, Bird brought a team of consultants to Israel to help organize Israeli political groups opposed to Netanyahu.
The 2014 version of anti-Netanyahu campaign is not without precedent.
The eagerness among former President Bill Clinton's staff to defeat Netanyahu in his first term was so strong that top Clinton operatives James Carville, Bob Shrum and pollster Stanley Greenberg camped out in Israel to help Labor Party candidate Ehud Barak to a come-from-behind victory over Netanyahu in 1999.
This year's activity comes amid charges by Democrats that Republican House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is playing politics by inviting Netanyahu to address Congress before the elections to report on the danger to Israel and the West from Iran's nuclear weapons program.
On the Republican side, Cruz and Zeldin want to know how much money the U.S. government has given to groups working in the Israeli elections, including One Voice and Peace Works Network Foundation, who approved the funding, how much oversight and accounting is involved, and whether non-profit groups such as One Voice are violating terms of their tax exempt status.
"Of course private American citizens are free to engage in political activities according to their inclinations," their letter stated. "But given the overtly partisan nature of this particular case, we are deeply concerned by the relationship that also exists between One Voice and the Department of State."
Lost in the din of the political battle another question looms: as the diplomats spend years negotiating with Iran, how close are the mullahs to acquiring nuclear weapons and what are the consequences for Israelis, Americans and the people living in the Middle East tinderbox if they do?