For several months now, the right has been trying to concoct a narrative that the Obama administration is interfering with the Israeli elections by trying to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. First, they’ve attacked by association over former Obama campaign official Jeremy Bird’s decision to work for an organization that’s opposed to Netanyahu’s reelection, and more directly, by trying to claim that the State Department improperly funded that group’s efforts.
While the White House has been very clear about avoiding “even the appearance” of influencing that election, the status of Netanyahu’s relationship with the administration makes the story an attractive one, except for one problem. It’s a big problem, though. The grant that the State Department is supposed to have funded Bird’s group ran out before that group (called V15) existed (from State Dept. Press Secretary Jen Psaki):
MS. PSAKI: Well, this is a report – just so people who haven’t followed this as closely know what the details are – about a group called OneVoice. The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv provided a grant to OneVoice to promote dialogue and support for peace negotiations and a two-state solution. That grant ran from September of 2013 to November of 2014. During the period of the grant, as is standard practice, the U.S. Embassy approved OneVoice Israel’s implementation plan for the grant and monitored its performance. And, as is routine for such a grant, final payments are disbursed after the grantee provides documentation showing completion of the grant terms. Now you’ve learned more about U.S. Government grants than you ever thought you needed to know.
The grant ended before the advent of V15. It ended before there was a declaration of an Israeli election. We’ve seen the media reports about the activities of V15, but the embassy has not provided any funds, support, or direction to the group.
That hasn’t stopped Fox News from pushing a new story that says the Senate Permanent Committee on Investigations has started an investigation into the allegation. The report is attributed to a single anonymous “source with knowledge of the panel’s activities.”
At Tuesday’s White House daily briefing, I asked Press Secretary Josh Earnest for his reaction to the report:
Tommy Christopher: “Do you have a reaction to that report?”
Josh Earnest: “No, primarily because it doesn’t sound like It’s particularly well-sourced…”
Tommy Christopher: “That’s a reaction, right?”
Josh Earnest: “Well, maybe. But I think the broader point is just to remind you, and others who might be interested in this story, that the administration, since early this year, has gone to great lengths to demonstrate our commitment to not interfering in the Israeli elections.”
“Not particularly well-sourced” is something of an understatement. Based on that attribution, the source could be the delivery guy from Au Bon Pain. What probably happened is that some Republican had lunch with a member of the subcommittee, heard what he wanted to, and passed it on to a reporter, who then didn’t even bother trying to fluff up the attribution. When your audience is this ready to believe whatever you tell them, you don’t really have to worry about stuff like that.
Here’s hoping that source is wrong, because the government wastes enough money without investigating whether the White House funded something before it even existed.