Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party won a surprising victory in yesterday’s elections over the Zionist Union headed by Isaac Herzog, despite the efforts of an anti-Netanyahu campaign linked to President Obama. Likud won 30 seats compared to 24 for the center-left Zionist Union, all but guaranteeing Netanyahu being given the first opportunity to form a ruling coalition.
It is no secret that the U.S.-Israel relationship has suffered recently and that Netanyahu and Obama disagree on many policy issues, including the Iranian nuclear program and the peace process of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The disagreement over Iran came to a head as Netanyahu spoke before Congress asserting that the Obama Administration’s negotiations with Tehran enhance the Mullahs’ path to nuclear weapons.
For his part in the peace process, Obama has repeatedly issued strong statements condemning Israeli settlements and calling for a return to 1967 borders. Netanyahu views at least some of the settlement areas as legitimate and considers the 1967 borders indefensible.
Whether for personal or policy reasons, evidence has indicated that Obama-linked personnel directly participated in campaigning against Netanyahu. Jeremy Bird, deputy national campaign director for Obama’s 2008 election and national campaign director for the 2012 reelection, was actively campaigning for Herzog. Bird led a team of former Obama campaign operatives with him to help replace Netanyahu.
These Obama-linked individuals were part of the Israel-based Victory 15 Campaign, an organization attempting to replace the Israeli (Netanyahu) government. Victory 15 is a subsidiary of OneVoice Movement, a Washington-based group focusing on Israeli and Palestinian issues that was campaigning against Netanyahu. OneVoice received $350,000 from recent State Department grants, and this funding is under scrutiny.
The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations has started a bipartisan investigation into the $350,000 for OneVoice and Victory 15, especially in light of their connection with the Israeli elections.
OneVoice is a 501(c)3 organization, giving it tax-exempt status. Therefore, the organization cannot legally campaign against Netanyahu. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY) wrote a letter in January saying the State Department funded Victory 15. The two men then sent a letter to the IRS earlier this month asking about OneVoice’s nonprofit status. The State Department denies that the funds had any relation to the Israeli election, but many disagree with this assertion.
These questionable incidences do not necessarily mean that Obama actively set up an anti-Netanyahu campaign apparatus, but the evidence does raises suspicions of the Obama Administration’s involvement.
Given the animosity between the Obama Administration and Netanyahu and the ties between Obama and anti-Netanyahu campaign efforts, it is reasonable to suspect the U.S. president had prior knowledge of the effort to unseat Netanyahu. If true, it would mean America intervened in the democratic election of a close ally, in order to achieve political ends.
While the bipartisan Senate investigation will need to do a thorough examination of the evidence in order to shed light on what actually occurred, there are already enough links between the White House and the Israeli elections to raise some eyebrows.