Did the White House attempt to throw an election in an allied country for its own political ends? Over the last few decades, progressives have made that accusation against Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, but the shoe may be on the other foot — especially since any such effort would have failed in Israel. A pollster who works with the Republican Party and had worked on Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud campaign accused the Obama administration of taking a more direct role than previously disclosed in the opposition to Israel’s Prime Minister:
“What was not well reported in the American media is that President Obama and his allies were playing in the election to defeat Prime Minister Netanyahu,” John McLaughlin, a Republican strategist, said in an interview on John Catsimatidis’s “The Cats Roundtable” radio show broadcast Sunday on AM 970 in New York.
“There was money moving that included taxpayer U.S. dollars, through non-profit organizations. And there were various liberal groups in the United States that were raising millions to fund a campaign called V15 against Prime Minister Netanyahu,” McLaughlin said.
He noted an effort to oust Netanyahu was guided by former Obama political operative Jeremy Bird and that V15, or Victory 15, ads hurt Netanyahu in the polls. McLaughlin said the Israeli leader rebounded after delivering a speech to Congress early this month, prompting more critical ads.
V15 was viewed as part of a broader campaign to oust Netanyahu. The group was linked to Washington-based nonprofit OneVoice Movement, which reportedly received $350,000 in State Department grants. Money to OneVoice stopped flowing in November, officials said, before the Israeli elections.
V15 founder Nimrod Dweck denies that any State Department funds went to his organization after November of last year, but McLaughlin alleges that more than money went into supporting Netanyahu’s opposition. He accused State of “expediting visas” to opposition leaders so that they could receive GOTV training in the US. Rep. Lee Zeldin, a member of the House Foreign Affairs committee, sent a demand to John Kerry about the involvement of V15 in the Israeli elections, and told Fox News yesterday that more than a dozen former Obama campaign advisers went to Israel to run “an ACORN, Obama Organizing for America-type campaign” against Netanyahu:
It may not just be material support, either. At the Washington Post, David Bernstein reminds readers of a curious leak just before the election about Netanyahu’s positions on potential settlement proposals with the Palestinians. The terms looked suspiciously like the Obama-Kerry position, and the leak seemed intended to split the Right in Israel with just days to go before the vote. And this, more than anything, demonstrates the Obama administration’s hypocrisy:
While trying to strengthen Israel’s left, the administration also apparently tried to undermine Netanyahu with Israel’s right. On March 6, less than two weeks before the election, a major Israeli newspaper published a document showing that Netanyahu’s envoy had agreed on his behalf to an American-proposed framework that offered substantial Israeli concessions that Netanyahu publicly opposed. Let’s put on our thinking caps. Where would this leak have come from? The most logical suspect is the American State Department.
So here’s the dynamic: Netanyahu, while talking tough publicly about terms for an Israeli-Palestinian deal, was much more accommodating privately during actual negotiations. Just before Israeli elections, the U.S. government likely leaks evidence of his flexibility to harm Netanyahu. As a result, Netanyahu starts to lose right-wing voters to smaller parties, and the left-leaning major opposition party takes a lead in the polls, putting Netanyahu’s leadership in question, just as the U.S. wanted.
Netanyahu responds by using increasingly right-wing rhetoric (including denying that he ever agreed to the framework in question), to win back the voters from smaller parties that the leak cost him. He wins, and almost immediately announces that his campaign rhetoric was misunderstood, and that he still supports a two-state solution when conditions allow. The Obama Administration then announces it nevertheless has to reassess relations with Israel, allegedly because Netanayahu is no longer committed to the two-state solution.
So you get it? The Obama Administration, or someone with similar motivations, leaks a document showing that in practice, Netanyahu was surprisingly flexible in negotiations sponsored by the U.S. Netanyahu then tries to compensate by sounding tough in the closing days of his campaign. The administration then pretends that this is much more meaningful than its actual experience with Netanyahu, as indicated by the document it likely leaked, because it was out to punish Israel for electing Netanyahu regardless.
If that’s the case ( and I had the same suspicions at the time of the leak), it didn’t work for very long. The Times of Israel reported on the same McLaughlin appearance, noting his contention that Likud had rebounded from the attack to have a significant polling lead two days before the election, a lead that other pollsters missed. This negates yet another White House attack on Netanyahu — the allegation that he only won over fear mongering:
John McLaughlin, a pollster who worked with the Likud party’s election campaign, told “The Cats Roundtable” on AM 970 that despite the fact that “most Israeli media polls had Netanyahu and his Likud party losing to the left right up until the Friday… through the weekend, Netanyahu rose [in internal polls]. Our last poll [on Sunday night], we had Likud at 23% of the vote, and that’s what they got.”
Netanyahu’s critics denounced the manner in which he drummed up support for his apparently flagging party on election day by calling on Likud supporters to vote because “Arab voters are flocking in huge quantities to the polling stations.”
According to McLaughlin, however, there was no indication that Likud was trailing….
“[Obama is] a big negative over there… (On security) they’re very concerned about what the president might do before he leaves office… The president really overplayed his hand,” he said.
It seems as though Obama is still overplaying his hand a week later. If the State Department gave its resources to interfere in the election of an ally, that would be a very troubling development. Congress should take a close look at the activities of the State Department and the White House connections to NGOs who conducted operations in Israel to oppose Netanyahu. In the meantime, the Obama administration may have realized the danger, and might have decided to cool their jets … for now.