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Foreign Intervention in Israeli Politics

February 2015

Election season is upon us and as we move closer to election day (March 17th) the mutual accusations and mud-slinging so common in any election campaign become louder and more pronounced.  But one of the major issues that have surfaced this week actually reflects something very fundamental that affects the settlement movement in particular

On Sunday, the Likud party held a press conference and accused the Zionist Camp List (Labor and Zipi Livni) of including individuals who are connected to foreign foundations trying to influence the outcome of the Israeli elections.  The accusations focused on One Voice, the umbrella organization of V15, sponsors of a campaign whose aim is to remove Prime Minister Netanyahu from office.

One Voice is an international movement whose stated goal is to bring about the two state solution as an end to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.  It boasts that it is a grassroots movement, with separate legal entities established in Europe and the US.  Its US entity is a tax exempt not for profit organization under section 501c3 of the Internal Revenue Code and the European entity has parallel status under the UK Inland Revenue Statutes.  It lists as its partners the US Department of State (equivalent to a foreign ministry) and the European Commission (the executive body of the European Parliament).  Under US law, this organization is forbidden from taking part in political campaigns, lobbying for political candidates or similar activity.  At the same time, it has some level of involvement with the US State Department.

V15 is a grassroots movement begun in Israel  just a few weeks ago in order to convince Israelis to vote for left-wing political parties in the upcoming election in order to oust the Likud and its satellite parties from power.  They are receiving the bulk of their funding from One Voice and are expected to merge with One Voice before the upcoming elections. That means that a political campaign is being funded by US and European tax-exempt funds in contravention of their respective laws.  It is unclear what role the US State Department or the European Commission plays in this campaign, but it probably would not be too far-fetched to assume that these two government bodies are conveniently  taking advantage of this so-called non-profit, grass roots initiative to interfere with the Israeli election.

A key player in the V15 campaign is Jeremy Bird, who headed up key elements of President Obama’s primary and general election campaign in 2008 and then served as his national field director in 2012.  Bird is now in Israel to head up the V15 campaign to unseat Netanyahu.  Using the house-to-house strategy that was so effective in the US, V15 plans to personally connect with Israeli citizens and convince them to vote left.

On Sunday, the Likud held a press conference in which it linked this campaign to key members in the Zionist Camp list.  In Israel, the focus has been on the extent to which this campaign, which involves millions of dollars in foreign funding, runs afoul of Israeli campaign financing laws which prohibits candidates from receiving funding from foreign entities.  When Ehud Barak ran for prime minister in 1999, millions of dollars in foreign funding poured  into Israeli non-profits which effectively assisted in promoting Ehud Barak.  Later it was discovered, that these non-profits were actually funnels for otherwise illegal campaign financing.  The State Comptroller issued a blistering report condemning these activities but the police were unable to gather enough hard evidence to indict the various players.  Current prime minister contender Yitzhak Herzog was involved in the 1999 scandal but exercised his right to remain silent and was never indicted.

From an Israeli standpoint, the current activity raises the same questions as the 1999 campaign: is there enough hard evidence to connect the Knesset contenders to the V15 and One Voice activities? But what is less focused on in Israel but what in my opinion is a huge issue, is the extent to which foreign governments are meddling in internal Israeli political processes.  For years now it is a well-known fact that European government funding is flowing into Israel to support radical left wing organizations.  In his recent book: ”Catch the Jew”, Tuvia Tenenbom documents how the European Union and other European organizations have been funding activities to foster hatred of Jews among local Arabs.

The American press was abuzz with potential scandal in response to the news that Prime Minister Netanyahu was going to address Congress just a few days before the election.  Netanyahu was accused of taking advantage of this golden opportunity to affect the Israel elections, while the Republican Speaker of the House was accused of cooperating in this supposedly underhanded tactic.  In fact, Netanyahu was invited to address Congress on the issue of sanctions against Iran which is the subject of great dispute between Congress and the President, a subject of dire consequence to Israel.  As former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani stated in an interview this week in Israel, this is when the sanctions are being debated in Congress so this is when Netanyahu needs to appear before the US legislature.  There is nothing manipulative about the timing.

But all this pales in comparison to the American and European manipulations of the Israeli election scene.  Identifying possible violations of US law, US Senator Ted Cruz and Congressman Lee Zeldin, demanded a thorough investigation into the One Voice affair, focusing on two key issues:  Is President Obama directly or indirectly involved in the V15 campaign to unseat Netanyahu? And are US tax-exempt donations being used to fund an election campaign in contravention of US law.

The legal issues on both sides of the ocean are weighty indeed.  But the most serious issue here is the extent to which foreign governments are not only expressing ongoing opposition to the Jewish claim to Judea and Samaria, through threats of economic boycott, war crimes trials, sanctions and UN condemnation, but are trying to manipulate the Israeli domestic political dynamic to comport with their views on the future of Israel and the Arab world.

It often feels as though the entire world is against us.  What is clear is that we have some very powerful enemies who will stoop at nothing to accomplish their goals.  You are citizens of some of the very countries which are playing these dangerous games.  You can raise your voices and become an effective counter-balance to these negative influences from across the sea.




Sondra Baras
Director, Is