Despite claims from Obama that he cannot meet world leaders too close to elections in their home countries for fear of influencing their outcomes, the US State Department seems to have had no problems expediting visas for activists working towards regime change in the upcoming Israeli elections.
According to a report in the Washington Free Beacon, US embassy officials met in late January with representatives of Givat Haviva, a non-profit organization which promotes cooperation, responsibility, civic equality and – at least in the March elections – replacing the current Likud government.
The representatives, all mayors of Israeli Arab towns, needed visas to attend a conference in Washington on political organization techniques, including voter outreach and community organization. The conference ended Wednesday.
The Israeli delegates met with top American officials at the embassy on January 29 to discuss the trip. The paper listed the deputy mission chief, the CIA station chief and cultural attache as attendees. According to Givat Haviva Institute co-executive director Mohammad Darawshe, the delegation’s main organizer, it was “a farewell greeting from the embassy staff after they helped with getting the visas.”
On the surface, working to increase voter turnout appears to be a non-partisan, pro-democratic goal. However, the targeted voter audiences for groups like Givat Haviva are those who traditionally oppose right-leaning parties such as Likud, namely young and low-income secular Jews and Arab Israelis.
According to the Free Beacon, Givat Haviva delegates had been scheduled to meet Monday with the State Department’s Bureau of Near East Affairs in Washington, but the meeting was cancelled abruptly after paper representatives began making inquiries.
Although the State Department did not comment on whether it had expedited the delegates’ visas, internal communications from Givat Haviva, obtained by the paper, indicated it had done so.
“[State Department Program Specialist] Manal Haddad from the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv is ready to help get the visas for mayors,” Darawshe wrote to trip organizers, asking for the delegates’ details. Normally, the visa application process takes 12 weeks; Givat Haviva delegates received theirs in one.
Givat Haviva is one of a number of progressive groups opposed to the Israeli government’s more right-wing policies which have received US State Department funds. While some, like Givat Haviva, are working merely towards increasing voter turnout, others, such as V15 and OneVoice, are actively and aggressively trying to unseat the current leadership.