We don’t know how many people watched the travesty at the Center for American Progress yesterday. CAP president Neera Tanden had a “conversation” with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that was the most polite dialogue you will ever see with a fascistic prime minister who just slaughtered 2200 people in a walled-in territory. Tanden spoke as a supplicant. All her questions were so tentative that Netanyahu could have begun each answer with, “I’m glad you asked that question.”
Tanden bent over backwards not to offend the prime minister. Even her most direct thrust — asking him about his racist appeal to voters on the eve of last March’s election, when he said that ‘Arab voters were coming out in droves’ — she couched. Some in the progressive community were concerned about this, she said. She never called it racism. She used the same Some-have-said locution to bring up the settlement expansion. Imagine a liberal thinktank inviting Lester Maddox or George Wallace to Washington in the 60s and softballing them. . . . It would never have happened.
Yesterday was a display of the Israel lobby’s strength in the Democratic Party. Netanyahu’s audience was obtained by the American Israel Political Affairs Committee — AIPAC — and the room was rigged, the questions were rigged, every moment from start to finish was scripted to make Netanyahu seem acceptable in Democratic circles. The crowd in the room looked like it was drugged. There was no animation, little audible response, no effervescence. The room was stocked with pro-Israel Jews. The only questions from the audience were from stalwarts of the Israel lobby: Morton Halperin of J Street, David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and Greg Rosenbaum of the National Jewish Democratic Council. The arrangement of these three questions, two of them putatively adversarial (a Jewish publication quotes J Street saying it was the first time that J Street had ever had a direct encounter with the PM), was straight out of the history of the Soviet Union.
Max Blumenthal said Tanden was auditioning for her job in the forthcoming Clinton administration, and nailing it. Adam Horowitz said, It’s not entirely surprising that Tanden was unimpressive, given that it’s not her area of expertise, but she cowered and Netanyahu loved it. And by the way, the awkward chairs displayed the Prime Minister’s sizeable gut.
Yesterday was also a display of the downfall of the Israel lobby. This is what it’s reduced to: show-conversations, with a rigged room, inside the Democratic Party. Just about everyone in that room was older. It’s not American democracy on display; it’s the dead hand of an old order.
And that’s the good news. The Center for American Progress could not open the doors to this event because it knows there would be too much rage expressed by the Democratic base — made up of the young, women, and people of color — which has begun to dislike Israel and fear its effects on our foreign policy. Just look at the comments on the New York Times article the other day that called on Netanyahu and Obama to patch up their differences — ordinary Americans get the story:
I get it. I get no Social Security increase but Israel gets a massive increase in military aid despite the fact that Netanyahu has done everything in his power to thwart American efforts to make it less necessary by undermining Oslo and continuing expand settlements and preclude a just outcome. Hillary and all the other candidates agree: unqualified support for Israel is good politics. Protecting American interests: not so much!
The Democratic Party and the Washington establishment can only sustain support for Israel by rigging the room. But those days are ending. Even a faction at CAP itself spoke out against the Netanyahu show-conversation, citing his “crimes.” Everyone in the progressive world knows the emperor has no clothes. The crisis is rocking the Zionist world. Netanyahu’s former ambassador to the U.S. sees the writing on the wall in this lament yesterday:
I predict that, without a diplomat horizon, historians may someday write about how Israel lost its Jewish and democratic character.
Netanyahu came to Washington to demonstrate that support for Israel is not politicized here, that it’s not a Republican cause only. But the visit has had the opposite effect, making it clear to everyone that the coalition is finally falling apart. The CAP show-conversation demonstrates that the battle over the Israel lobby has begun now inside the Beltway. The most powerful institutions in the establishment are in play. Support for Israel is bound to come up in the 2016 primaries in a more urgent fashion than ever, and subjects like Palestinian human rights and Zionism will make it on to the nightly news. The real conversation has moved out of the margins.
PS. This will be fun. Tanden just announced a staff meeting in a week’s time. At the last one, the dissenters spoke up. This one is sure to be even bigger.
I invite you to a staff meeting, Wednesday, the 18th at 3:30 in conference room D. I was hoping we could do this sooner, but because of events and other issues, this is the soonest that we can meet. I hope all will attend.
I am sorry I could not attend our last staff meeting and wanted to schedule one soon for all of us.
I know that recent events have been difficult. I want to answer questions people have and discuss with everyone where to go from here.
Thanks for all you do.