The head of a progressive U.S.-based group that helped organize the failed get-out-the-vote effort to challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel defended the initiative during a panel discussion at J Street’s annual conference on Sunday.
Kenneth Bob, who runs the U.S. nonprofit Ameinu, said around a year ago the group began meeting with board members, political parties, and other progressive organizations to figure out "what can we actually do to impact events on the ground in Israel."
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"It took us on a path to learn about Israeli electoral funding laws, and it brought us to a project that has now gotten a certain amount of publicity thanks to the prime minister of Israel," said Bob. "We helped put together a get-out-the-vote effort in the Arab community."
Netanyahu called on his supporters to turn out to vote last Tuesday to counter U.S.-funded efforts aimed at bringing out left-leaning and Arab-Israeli voters. His comments earned rebukes from the White House, which has suggested that he was trying to discourage minority voting.
Bob said Netanyahu’s characterization of the campaign was accurate, although the prime minister overstated how much money it had received.
"When Bibi spoke about the tens of millions of dollars pouring into this effort, my only correction was it wasn’t tens of millions," said Bob. "He exaggerated a little bit."
He said that some Americans were uncomfortable with the project, but that progressives need to embrace new tactics and ideas.
"Not everyone who people vote for in the Arab community are, as people like to say in Hebrew, ‘my cup of tea,’" said Bob. "I use that as an example because I think we have to have patience, we also have to think about new ideas that can impact what we’re trying to get done."
Several organizations that have received funding from the U.S. State Department—including OneVoice, Givat Haviva and the Abraham Fund Initiatives—were also involved in the voter-targeting efforts. A bipartisan Senate committee launched an investigation earlier this month into whether any U.S. government funds had been used for this campaign.
The Washington Free Beacon reported in February on a confidential memo drafted by Ameinu in December 2014 outlining the Arab-targeted initiative.
The memo said the $3 million effort was going to be led by the group Givat Haviva, and that organizers had been consulting with President Obama’s 2012 campaign operatives.
Givat Haviva’s co-executive director, Mohammad Darawshe, who was the point-person for the Arab get-out-the-vote campaign, is also the co-founder of OneVoice.
Givat Haviva brought a delegation of Arab-Israeli mayors to the United States in February to meet with Democratic leaders and learn political organizing techniques. The State Department expedited the mayors’ visas, according to internal correspondence obtained by the Free Beacon.
One week before the trip, Darawshe and other Givat Haviva representatives also met with high-ranking American diplomats, including the deputy mission chief, at the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv to discuss the planned visit.
Givat Haviva was scheduled to meet with the State Department during the February delegation visit, according to a trip organizer, but the meeting was canceled without explanation following inquiries from the Free Beacon.