Hoenlein: Keep U.S. funding out of Israeli elections

Ben Sales

TEL AVIV (JTA) — Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said that American groups should not intervene in the upcoming Israeli elections.

In a phone interview Thursday with JTA while he was in Israel, Hoenlein said that American organizations should not fund any side ahead of the March 17 vote.

“I don’t think it’s healthy that foreign financing come here,” he said. “Israel should be above partisanship. It only can be harmful to be both sides.”

Hoenlein said he wasn’t referring to any specific group and opposed foreign intervention on all sides of the campaign.

His comments came against the backdrop of controversy regarding V15, an Israeli organization opposing the reelection of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that has partnered with OneVoice, a nonprofit that works toward Israeli-Palestinian peace. Netanyahu’s campaign has alleged that V15 is breaking Israeli campaign finance law by accepting foreign funds to support Netanyahu’s rivals.

Hoenlein, whose umbrella group has 51 organizations,  also downplayed concerns that Netanyahu’s March speech to a joint session of Congress will cause further tension in U.S.-Israel ties. The speech has come under heavy criticism for being scheduled without consulting the Obama administration, for intending to support sanctions on Iran that President Barack Obama opposes and for coming two weeks before the Israeli election.

“Israel cannot be a partisan issue,” Hoenlein said. “I do not think the prime minister’s speech will do what people think. He did not come to attack the president or take sides.”