The Biden administration’s outgoing ambassador to Israel personally signed off on a controversial $1 million grant to a program critics said was meant to delegitimize Israel, according to internal State Department communications obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
U.S. ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides approved the funding project in a January 2022 internal "action memo," according to a trove of internal emails obtained by the America First Legal Foundation through a Freedom of Information Act request for information about the grant. The emails detail how Nides personally cleared the State Department to offer $987,654 for groups to investigate alleged human rights abuses in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.
Those applying for the grant were instructed to probe the Israeli government for "documentation of legal or security sector violations and housing, land, and property rights." The cash would essentially empower activist groups critical of Israel to pursue false claims that the Jewish state is systematically abusing Palestinians and stealing their land. With taxpayer cash at their disposal, these nonprofit groups could advance an agenda that pro-Israel advocates say fuels the delegitimization of Israel on the international stage by incentivizing a disproportionate focus on the supposed missteps and abuses of the Jewish State.
The taxpayer-funded initiative, which the Free Beacon first reported in March 2022, prompted a congressional investigation. Lawmakers accused the Biden administration of working to isolate Israel and bolster the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS), which wages economic warfare on the Jewish state. The United States government, critics said, should not be funding efforts to paint Israel as a pariah state.
The ambassador’s involvement in the funding effort is certain to attract congressional scrutiny as Israel’s defenders on Capitol Hill worry the Biden administration is alienating the Jewish State. President Joe Biden has been openly critical of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the State Department was found to be bankrolling far-left groups seeking to topple the prime minister’s governing coalition.
The emails show State Department officials working to get the grant approved so they could post it publicly on the department’s website. Subsequent emails show State Department employees discussing potential grant proposals submitted by various organizations looking to cash in. America First Legal, which began investigating the grant last year, says the emails indicate Nides, who is expected to vacate his post this summer, signed off before the grant was published.
"Best news to wake up to on a Monday!" one State Department employee wrote upon getting confirmation that the grant had been approved.
A State Department spokesman would not comment on Nides’s involvement in the program, saying, "as a general matter, we do not discuss internal government communications."
While the State Department initially indicated to the Free Beacon that the grant had been canceled, it later clarified that statement to say that "no grant was awarded for this funding opportunity." The spokesman, however, would not clarify what exactly that means, or provide the Free Beacon with updated information about the funding proposal.
"As the review of proposals is part of internal deliberations processes within the Department of State, we are unable to publicly share details regarding status or outcomes," the spokesman said.
The ongoing opacity surrounding the program threatens to reignite a congressional battle with the State Department, which has been under pressure for more than a year to pull the taxpayer funding. Congressional sources who have been tracking the issue said it is unacceptable for the State Department to withhold information about a publicly available grant program.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) and 11 other Republican lawmakers pressured the State Department last year to cancel the program, saying that it would embolden the global BDS movement.
"As a policy matter, it is wholly unacceptable for the State Department to fund NGOs to delegitimize and isolate Israel," the lawmakers wrote in a letter, following the Free Beacon’s initial report on the grant. The State Department, the lawmakers said, is using taxpayer dollars to promote a "new anti-Semitism" that is "driven by a global network of anti-Israel nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and human rights groups."
Cruz, in separate comments to the Free Beacon last year, accused the Biden administration of using "American taxpayer money to subsidize the international NGO campaign to demonize and isolate Israel."
The America First Legal Foundation, which discovered Nides’s involvement in the grant program through a FOIA request, also launched an investigation into the matter last year, the Free Beacon reported.
Lawmakers and pro-Israel advocacy groups view the funding as part of a larger effort to mainstream the BDS movement and undermine Netanyahu’s government at a time when Israel is facing a renewed wave of terrorism. The State Department in particular has come under scrutiny for hiring several people who worked in the anti-Israel community and promoted the BDS movement.
The State Department, in its comment to the Free Beacon, maintained that these "programs are intended to foster respect for human rights and the rule of law and support democracy globally." The State Department "carefully reviews all eligible proposals per our well-established and rigorous review process."