JERUSALEM – An online group purporting to be apolitical and calling on Israelis to get out and vote in the March 2 elections is being run by a group of leftwing activists and has received millions of shekels in funding by leftwing donors including a George Soros-affiliated foundation, an Israeli newspaper claimed Monday.
By presenting itself as having no direct involvement in the elections, the group has also managed to avoid reporting to the state comptroller as per the law.
A Hebrew-language Facebook page called “Third Time and That’s It” was created at the end of January 2020 with the stated mission of preventing a fourth election cycle by getting all eligible voters to the polls on March 2. Last week alone, more than NIS 130,000 ($38,000) was spent in Facebook advertising. In its about section, the page says it was set up by a range of concerned citizens from all different sectors of society whose only commonality is the desire to avoid more elections.
The page has already had hundreds of thousands of NIS poured into it, mostly in sponsored posts, and was set up by The Israeli Alliance, a group run by left wing activists, the Israel Hayom daily said.
The Israeli Alliance was founded in 2017 by Shai Cohen, a Labor Party activist. At least five other members are activists or salaried employees of the leftwing Meretz and Labor parties. In 2018, the Israeli Alliance received NIS 3,357,164 ($983,000) in funding, of which the lion’s share, some NIS 2,937,845 ($860,000), was from overseas donations, according to the Ministry of Justice. Until recently, the Israeli Alliance specifically named the progressive Tides Foundation as one of its donors. Tides, in turn, lists George Soros’ Open Society Foundations as one of its donors. The Israeli Alliance removed the mention of Tides from both its English and Hebrew websites and according to Israel Hayom, stopped its relationship with the American group about a year ago.
In August 2019 and up until the September 17, 2019, elections the group spent a whopping NIS 2,708,825 ($792,000) in Facebook advertising. During this election cycle, the “Third Time and That’s It” has invested NIS 300,000 ($88,000) on Facebook ads, making it one of the most funded pages in Israel’s elections with spending matched only by Facebook pages managed by Israel’s two largest political parties, Likud and Blue and White.
However, unlike Likud and Blue and White, the Israel Alliance’s page does not have to comply with the v15 Act, on the grounds that it’s a neutral cause that is not directly involved in the elections. The v15 law passed in March 2017 calls for any entity active in elections expending more than NIS 102,000 on election-related activity to report the source of its funding to the state comptroller.
Yet while its posts seem innocuous enough – namely, encouraging Israelis to vote – the advertising is targeted specifically towards a leftwing demographic, the report said. In 2018, Israeli Alliance founder Uri Cole published an extensive article extolling the virtues of targeted Facebook ads and sponsored promotions.
In its response to the newspaper, the Israeli Alliance said: “We love Israel. It hurts us to see the country stuck in endless elections.”