Police clashed with anti-government protesters who attempted to shut down the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv on Thursday. As some recent reports have highlighted, some of the funding for the protests and the organizations behind them comes from foreign sources, including the US State Department.
One of the major organizations behind the protests is the Movement for Quality Government (MQG). The organization, which has received over $38,000 in funding from the US State Department, public Israeli records show.
The group describes itself as “an independent, non-partisan, grassroots, non-profit organization that has been defending Israeli democracy since 1990.” The group however, has brought numerous court cases against Prime Minister Netanyahu, including a petition to the Supreme Court that called for declaring him unfit to hold public office. In addition, MQG is primarily funded by the New Israel Fund, a US NGO that funds many anti-Israel organizations that promote a narrative portraying Israel as an apartheid state.
“The State Department should never fund foreign partisan organizations in allied democracies,” Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told the Washingoton Free Beacon, which published a report on the issue. “If the shoe was on the other foot, the Biden administration would accuse Israel of interfering in our elections. Congress should absolutely review the State Department’s potential funding of partisan politics in Israel.”
While acknowledging to the Free Beacon that they had provided the funding, the State Department refused to comment on what the funding was used for.
“The State Department has provided small grants to the Movement for Quality Government, including a grant signed in 2020 during the previous administration and continued under the Biden administration that focused on teaching civic education and supporting good governance,” a State Department official said.
Grant information shows that MQG received grants of around $10,000 to $15,000 dollars in 2020, 2021, and 2022. In each of those years, the State Department under President Biden was listed as the group’s sole foreign donor. The grant information does not show State Department funding before 2020.
The last tranche of funding was awarded in September 2022. The money was meant to be used for democracy training programs in the Israeli school system.
The protests against the judicial reforms proposed by the newly formed right-wing government and Justice Minister Yariv Levin began two months ago. They have occasionally grown violent and even threatened Sara Netanyahu when crowds surrounded a hair salon she was patronizing.
Protesters were offered money to block traffic to the Ben Gurion International Airport on Thursday. Israel National News reported that a WhatsApp message was sent out by the organizers offering a refund on their fuel costs in getting there and back, plus 250 shekels for taking part in the protest itself.
“Want to make a few shekels this Thursday?” the message reads. “Come and shut down Ben Gurion Airport, and you’ll get 250 shekels plus gasoline.”
“Anyone who doesn’t coordinate with the organizers will not be paid,” and that people should “send your full name and make of vehicle to the organizers so that we can register you and ensure that you’re paid,” the message read.
Last month, President Biden released a statement of his opinion on the judicial reforms. In a rare move, the US president criticized the internal politics of a foreign country. Biden pointed to the protests as a sign that Netanyahu should not pursue the reforms.
“The genius of American democracy and Israeli democracy is that they are both built on strong institutions, on checks and balances, on an independent judiciary,” the statement read. “Building consensus for fundamental changes is really important to ensure that the people buy into them so they can be sustained.”
The US Democratic party has a long history of meddling in Israeli politics and elections, most notably in opposition to Netanyahu. V15, which stands for Victory 15, was established during the 2015 elections with the stated goal of opposing Netanyahu. V15 was aided by One Voice, an NGO that supports the creation of an “independent and viable Palestine” alongside Israel, which assigned Jeremy Bird, a field director in both of President Barack Obama’s winning White House runs, with the task.
While it violates Israeli election law to use foreign funds in an election campaign, V15 sidestepped the law, stating that they were not affiliated with or campaigning for any specific party. Their only interest was to oust Netanyahu from office.
NGO-Monitor reported that in July 2016, the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a report detailing the use of resources developed with State Department funding to advance the V-15 campaign. The subcommittee concluded that One Voice did not directly use U.S. funds for its election campaign or violate its agreement with the U.S. government. However, the subcommittee criticized the State Department for not properly evaluating One Voice before approving the grant and for its failure to monitor the organization during the course of the project. The final report stated that the State Department “failed to adequately guard against the risk of OneVoice using government-funded resources for political purposes… despite OneVoice’s previous political activity in the 2013 Israeli election.”
But even before Obama, Democrat presidents worked to influence Israeli elections. In an interview broadcast on Israel’s Channel 10 news in April 2018, former-President Bill Clinton admitted working to help Shimon Peres in his unsuccessful run against Netanyahu in 1996.
In addition, a US Senate inquiry in 2016 confirmed that a grant of $350,000 from the US State Department was given to OneVoice International and was used to organize a campaign to prevent the reelection of Netanyahu in 2015. Although the actions of the Obama administration were not considered to have been illegal, the bipartisan committee rebuked the State Department for procedural shortcomings.