Scapegoating Democrats

The Partisanship of iVoteIsrael

Ali Gharib reports on a Republican-aligned Israeli-American voter registration group's crumbling claims of non-partisanship.

Doubts continue to grow about the non-partisanship of iVoteIsrael, an organization dedicated to increasing absentee voting by Americans in Israel. Just this week, the New York Times, CNN and Haaretz ran features on the group. Before all those, Mairav Zonszein showed, with in-depth reporting in these pages, a pattern of iVoteIsrael's close ties to the Republican Party and right-wing proclivities. A report last week linked the billionaire Ronald Lauder—an ally of Benjamin Netanyahu and major Republican donor—to iVoteIsrael. And thus even the flimsy façade of non-partisanship began to collapse. Further discredited, iVoteIsrael is looking for scapegoats.

Last Friday, the Jerusalem Post ran a story recapping the Lauder links and publishing portions of e-mails showing conversations between the Washington-based National Jewish Democratic Council and iVoteIsrael about bringing speakers to Israel. The NJDC ended up not facilitating the travel of Democratic members of Congress to Israel to do events with iVoteIsrael, seeming to bolster the group's contention that it attempted to be bi-partisan, but was stifled by the NJDC's non-cooperation.

But in an interview with Open Zion, NJDC head David Harris said there was more to the story than just the e-mails. "We talked amicably in June and July. At the outset, I tried to give these folks the benefit of the doubt," said Harris, who supports registering any American voters. "I tried to give them the benefit of the doubt, despite some evidence to the contrary. Over the summer and the fall, that evidence mounted."

Asked by Open Zion, iVoteIsrael head Elie Pieprz did not deny he leaked e-mails between himself and Harris to the Jerusalem Post. "[E]nsuring that the media... knew that the Democrats were considering it/planning it, etc was and is important to our goal of creating the most interest in the this election season," Pierpz wrote in an e-mail. Pierpz, whom the Times identified as a "a former Republican activist," maintained that iVoteIsrael is a non-partisan effort.

Harris, however, backed up his contention of partisanship "on their own website" by citing a litany of postings on iVoteIsrael web and social media sites, including a September video posted by iVoteIsrael of Mitt Romney adviser John Bolton explicitly endorsing the Republican ticket and stridently criticizing Obama's Israel policies. (Defending the absence of a similar item supporting Obama, Pierpz e-mailed Open Zion a video of Rep. Gary Ackerman, taken at the early-September Democratic National Convention, which was posted to iVoteIsrael's YouTube page just a few days ago, on October 18—well after all the criticisms of the Bolton endorsement surfaced.)

The Jerusalem Post article ignored those examples, airing instead Pierpz's denials and finger-pointing at the NJDC. In the exchange, which, according to the Post, "begins on July 5 and ends July 23," iVote Israel asks if NJDC can get Secretary of State HIllary Clinton to come to Israel. Harris suggests he might be able to come in August with a Member of Congress.

Contra his explanation to Open Zion that the leak merely illustrated Democratic efforts to be involved—"I thought it was important to make it clear that the Democrats had indeed considered coming to Israel to reach out to the Americans here"—Pierpz presented the e-mails to the Post as the NJDC failing to bolster his group's purported non-partisan bona fides by refusing to cooperate. “I’m not begrudging the NJDC. They make their own decisions,” he told the Post, “but they’re doing Americans in Israel a disservice by not having the same level of engagement as the RJC.”

Harris pointed to revelations about Lauder and iVoteIsrael's parent organization as yet further proof of iVoteIsrael's dubious non-partisanship. He mentioned links, first reported by the Sunlight Foundation, between Americans for Jerusalem (which houses iVoteIsrael) and a partisan group called Secure America Now running "blatant smear attack ads against the President in Ohio and Florida."

"I don't think anyone can doubt that iVoteIsrael is backed by people that oppose the president's agenda," Harris said. "Unfortunately, the emperor has no clothes here. It's ridiculous for them to claim that they're non-partisan."