U.S. Senate Report: Resources Built With State Funds Used Against Netanyahu in 2015 Israeli Election

V15 received database of Israeli voters without State Department's knowledge, through OneVoice, a pro-peace group partially funded by the U.S.

V15 activists, with Itamar Weizmann (C), watch as the election results are announced, March 17, 2015.
Ilya Melnikov

Resources and databases belonging to a public diplomacy project on the peace process funded by the U.S. State Department were used by a local group that sought to topple Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in last year’s election, according to a report by a Senate investigative committee issued Tuesday.

The report, issued by the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, said the material was not obtained by the V15 organization due to a deliberate decision by senior State Department officials, but reached the group because of negligence by midlevel diplomats.

The investigation was launched last year, when the relationship between the OneVoice Movement, a group that received State Department funding to promote the peace process, and V15 came under scrutiny by right-wing media outlets in America and Israel.

According to the Senate report, the State Department in 2013 gave $349,000 to the Israeli and Palestinian branches of OneVoice, a private group trying to influence Israeli and Palestinian public opinion in favor of the two-state solution, in conjunction with Secretary of State John Kerry’s effort in July 2013 to renew Israeli-Palestinian talks.

The funding, transferred through the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, was used to build a database of Israelis and Palestinians of voting age; to expand OneVoice’s presence on social media; and to recruit an American political consultant to train OneVoice’s executives and activists.

The report states that after the project ended with the peace talks’ failure in April 2014, OneVoice put the project’s resources to a different use; a few weeks after Netanyahu declared new elections in late 2014, OneVoice gave the database and social media infrastructure it had developed with State Department expense to V15, which was founded to campaign against Netanyahu.

According to the report, OneVoice informed the State Department that it had diverted the peace project’s resources to V15 and even sent American diplomats the strategic plan behind the move. According to the report, the diplomats who got the email on the matter told Senate investigators that they never read it and thus were not aware that the project’s resources were being used for a different purpose.

The report states that the “recycling” of the peace project’s resources was not forbidden by the terms of the grant, since the State Department had not set any restrictions on their use once that project ended. This constituted negligence on the diplomats’ part, the report said, because OneVoice had been politically active in the 2013 election. Nevertheless, the department failed to take any steps to guard against the risk that OneVoice could engage in political activity using the U.S.-funded grassroots campaign infrastructure, the report said.