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Source: Senate panel probing â€Žpossible Obama administration ties to anti-Netanyahu effort
By Steven Edwards
Published March 14, 2015
What can repair the US-Israel rift?
A powerful U.S. Senate investigatory committee has launched a bipartisan probe
into an American nonprofitâ€™s funding of efforts to oust Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the Obama administrationâ€™s State Department gave the nonprofit taxpayer-funded grants,
a source with knowledge of the panel's activities told FoxNews.com.
The fact that both Democratic and Republican sides of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations have signed off on the probe could be seen as a rebuke to President Obama, who has had a well-documented adversarial relationship with the Israeli leader.
The development comes as Netanyahu told Israelâ€™s Channel Two television station this week that there were â€œgovernmentsâ€ that wanted to help with the â€œJust Not Bibiâ€ campaigning -- Bibi being the Israeli leaderâ€™s nickname.
It also follows a FoxNews.com report on claims the Obama administration has been meddling in the Israeli election
on behalf of groups hostile to Netanyahu. A spokesperson for Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican and chairman of the committee, declined comment, and aides to ranking Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, of Missouri, did not immediately return calls.
The Senate subcommittee, which has subpoena power, is the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairsâ€™ chief investigative body with jurisdiction over all branches of government operations and compliance with laws.
â€œThe Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations does not comment on ongoing investigations,â€
Portman spokeswoman Caitlin Conant told Foxnews.com.
But a source familiar with the matter confirmed for FoxNews.com that the probe -- undisclosed until now -- was both underway and bipartisan in nature.
According to the source, the probe is looking into â€œfundingâ€ by OneVoice Movement â€“ a Washington-based group that has received $350,000 in recent State Department grants, and until last November was headed by a veteran diplomat from the Clinton administrations.
A subsidiary of OneVoice is the Israel-based Victory 15 campaign, itself guided by top operatives of Obamaâ€™s White House runs, which seeks to â€œreplace the governmentâ€ of Israel.
â€œItâ€™s confirmed that there is a bipartisan Permanent Subcommittee inquiry into OneVoiceâ€™s funding of V15,â€ the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity about the American group, which bills itself as working for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In his television interview, Netanyahu said the coalition seeking to oust him is generously funded by foreign donors who are also encouraging a high voter turnout among Israel's Arab and left-wing voters in a bid to replace the existing leadership.
He characterized the campaign against him as "unprecedented." While Netanyahu pointed the finger at â€œEuropean countries and left-wing people abroad,â€ some observers note that he held back from openly criticizing Obama during his recent trip to the U.S. to address Congress on problems his government sees with administration-backed efforts to reach a nuclear weapons inspection deal with Iran.
â€œWe appreciate all that President Obama has done for Israel,â€ Netanyahu told lawmakers -- while Obama refused to meet with the Israeli leader, and later criticized his speech as â€œnothing new.â€
No direct link has been confirmed between Obama and the anti-Netanyahu campaign in Israel, but polls have shown that a large majority of Israelis believe the administration has been interfering in the election, set for March 17.
One expert told FoxNews.com earlier this month the State Department grants constituted indirect administration funding of the anti-Netanyahu campaign by providing OneVoice with the $350,000 -- even though State Department officials said the funding stopped in November, ahead of the announcement of the Israeli election.
Gerald Steinberg, founder and president of NGO Monitor, which tracks money flows to unmask non-governmental organizations that deviate from their stated human rights or humanitarian agendas, said even ostensibly unrelated grants keep an organization going during periods it is not engaged in political activity.
Indeed, by January, OneVoice â€“ whose focus on Israelâ€™s 1967 borders as a negotiating starting point reflects Obamaâ€™s thinking but is counter to Netanyahuâ€™s â€“ had announced its partnership with V15.
Around the same time, Jeremy Bird, who served as Obamaâ€™s deputy national campaign director in 2008, and his national campaign director in 2012, arrived in Israel to help direct V15. Bird took with him additional former Obama campaign operatives to help V15 achieve its goal of knocking on one million doors to make the case for a change in Israelâ€™s leadership.
OneVoice is barred from directly targeting Netanyahu by U.S. law regulating its tax-exempt status, and doing so would threaten that status.
One Voice spokesman Payton Knox denied claims the group is working with the administration in the upcoming Israeli election.
"OneVoice is eager to cooperate with any inquiry,â€ he said Saturday. â€œAnd after a fair examination, we are confident no wrong doing will be found.â€
But the recent FoxNews.com investigation showed that the nonprofit, in its 2014 Annual Report, said its Israel branch would be â€œembarking on a groundbreaking campaign around the Israeli elections.â€ In partnering with V15, the two groups have operated from adjacent offices in Tel Aviv.
In addition to McCaskill, other Democrats on the subcommittee are Sens. Jon Tester of Montana, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.
Republican subcommittee members, who form the majority, are Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Rand Paul of Kentucky, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, and Ben Sasse of Nebraska, in addition to Portman.
State Department documents say the grants to OneVoice were meant for the groupâ€™s work in encouraging both Palestinian grass-roots civic activism and Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. The State Department itself, meanwhile, denied any of the funds had been used for election campaign activities despite OneVoiceâ€™s backing of V15.
Launched in 2002 by snack bar mogul Daniel Lubetzky and boasting the star power of such celebrities as Brad Pitt, Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman and Sir Paul McCartney among its honorary advisors, OneVoice was headed until November by Marc Ginsberg, who advised President Carter on Middle East policy and served as President Clintonâ€™s ambassador to Morocco.
Ginsberg, who has described the administrationâ€™s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a â€œwindow of opportunity,â€ is now serving OneVoice as â€œspecial advisorâ€ after resigning as CEO at a time that turned out to be just ahead of the early December announcement of the Israeli election.
â€œI resigned on November 11, 2014, because I had only committed to serve as CEO for one year and my resignation was effective December 19, 2014,â€ he wrote in an email to FoxNews.com. â€œI agreed to be available after that as a Senior Adviser on an occasional basis to the organizationâ€¦along with many others, but have had ZERO decision-making authority over personnel, budgets, programs, etc. That responsibility was transferred to the Executive Director of the OneVoice Europe organization after I resigned.â€