U.S taxpayers footed the bill to the tune of more than $1 million to fund a lobbying and social change organization known as SHATIL that seeks political and social change in Israel. According to a report by renowned investigative reporter Edwin Black, the money was channeled by the State Department through a government program known as Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) to the controversial New Israel Fund. MEPI has provided over $600 million in grants to a variety of political activists in eighteen countries in the Mideast. In a self-description, MEPI said on its website: “MEPI supports organizations and individuals in their efforts to promote political, economic, and social reform in the Middle East and North Africa.” Among those countries are Algeria, Libya, Lebanon, and Yemen. None of these are known as beacons of democracy or human rights.
Israel will have an election on March 17 in which incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who is frequently at odds with President Barack Obama over policy towards the Mideast and Israel – is facing one of toughest electoral challenges of his career. Israeli leftist groups, aligned with an Arab party, are vying for the top spot in a very close race. Funding from NIF has been channeled to groups opposed to Netanyahu and the Likud Party, both of which are reliably Zionist. Knesset Deputy Speaker Yoni Chetboun, for example, has said that NIF was bent on “erasing the Jewish identity from the Jewish State,” and added that NIF represents the biggest left-wing lobby in Israel.
Spokesmen for Netanyahu’s party and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party both characterized NIF as “anti-Zionist.” According to Black, both political parties cancelled participation in a Ha’aretz newspaper conference when they learned NIF was a sponsor. The Jewish Home party was quoted in the Jerusalem Post stating, “We will not take part in a conference in which an anti-Zionist organization that invests all its time and money in harming IDF soldiers and the State of Israel as a Jewish State is involved.”
However, Israel – the only democracy in a volatile region – is among the targets of MEPI. The New Israel Fund and SHATIL receive State Department funding for political change. NIF is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit charitable organization that has stirred controversy because of its political activities. While MEPI funding of NIF has been reported before, it is Black who has reported now on the million-dollar funding.
A check of federal government grant records shows a tangible link between radical groups in Israel and the Obama administration. For example, the stated purpose of a 2009 State Department grant of $505,805 to NIF and Shatil was “Award will promote the rights, increase the participation and advance that status of women in the Bedouin community and strengthen their organizations.” The record for this grant, with a Federal Award ID SNEAPI09CA286, obscured its real purpose as merely “amendment changes the Project Officer for this AWARD.”
One of the Democrats associated with the grant is Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joseph Biden, who attended an NIF Bedouin event. Edwin Black is the author of a book entitled Financing the Flames, which exposed the nonprofit charitable status of the New Israel Fund. Taxpayers fund its activities with contributions that are in lieu of taxes paid to the federal government.
Israeli media reported that Netanyahu sees "a real danger" of losing the March 17 election while also claiming that there is a worldwide effort to unseat him. Netanyahu entreated supporters of Likud at a rally near Tel Aviv to cast their ballots and ensure the defeat of Isaac Herzog of the left-of-center Zionist Union party. "It's far from being certain, there's a real danger," said Netanyahu, who has been in office since 2009. Netanyahu predicted that Herzog would seek renewed peace talks with the Palestinians and also consider dividing Jerusalem and giving back territories. Netanyahu reportedly said on March 9 that he envisions "a very tight race. Nothing is guaranteed because there is a huge, worldwide effort to topple the Likud government."