It has barely been three weeks since an Israeli court dismissed a petition by the Likud Party to investigate the "Victory 15" (V15) campaign for inappropriate campaign financing. Despite the hasty dismissal and indirect relationship between V15 and the American State Department, some say the United States should not be sponsoring groups like OneVoice which was responsible for the questionable funding in the first place.
NGO Monitor is known for its watchdog mission against foreign funding to non-profits. The organization's Managing Editor, Naftali Balanson, sees the issue as an interesting one.
The organization primarily tries to focus on organizations that might be exceeding their stated agenda. For an organization that has an overt political mission, NGO Monitor does not take as much of an interest.
OneVoice has said prominently that the organization does not see Israel's current government as conducive to the organization's goals, ostensibly implying a leadership change as the outcome to the mostly 2-sided race for Prime Minister.
"We believe that it's critical that the majority of Israelis who are concerned about the numerous security and socio-economic challenges we face have their voices heard in the next election. We need a prime minister and a government who will be responsive to the people," the group says.
The question then is not if the State Department directly funded V15, but whether or not they expected OneVoice to use its funds to work on campaigns during the election that would inevitably oppose one party or sponsor another.
NGO Monitor's profile of OneVoice highlights other incidents, such as where their explicit sponsorship was on an event where speaker Gershon Baskin said, "...if we want to have a center-left government, we need to convince people that there is hope. When people don't have hope, they vote for people like Netanyahu.”
New Ground for NGO Monitor
Generally speaking, organizations that focus on issues such as human rights but are working off a list of more politicized priorities might catch their eye.
That is what makes th V15 case so interesting for Balanson. He says that while it obviously is relevant to their work, the direct relationship between OneVoice and the US State Department is more up NGO Monitor's alley. He notes also that it is difficult to glean what amount of money OneVoice donated to V15, or if any of the funds taken from the State Department might be directly connected to the V15 campaign.
“There is a certain lack of transparency here.”
“I think one of the interesting angles is the specific question of whether or not One Voice gave US funds to V15. Did it happen or not? Is that illegal? How should that reported?”
But V15 is not the only case of Western funding that has raised eyebrows with watchdogs like Balanson's. In 2010, USAid offered a 2.5-year grant to HL Education, the local branch of the Geneva Initiative, to promote the Two State Solution. The campaign they ran was ostensibly a one-sided campaign to promote Mahmoud Abbas as a partner for peace, but not vice versa.
“Were there signs in Ramallah that Bibi was a partner for peace? There is a sort of one-sided nature to these initiatives.”
And that is what Balanson notes irks many critics. If there were balance in these initiatives, the degree to which Israelis might perceive foreign interference might be much lower.
Specifically on the US though, it might be time to reevaluate who gets precious American dollars when the prerogatives of so many of these organizations is politically divisive in Israel. When asked what the next steps should be, Balanson seemed to welcome the US Senate's announcement it would investigate State Department funding in the Middle East.
"If it turns out that US government funds went to V15, whether by intention or by accident, that is a serious matter that requires investigation by the US Congress in order to evaluate how something like that could happen."
“More importantly on the American side of things is that One Voice has a pretty clear political agenda. Certainly at this stage I think it would be a mistake to continue to give money to the organization whether I agree with their agenda or not. I don’t think it looks good for the American government to give money to an organization with such a clear political angle.”