The good news about Benjamin Netanyahu’s appearance at the liberal thinktank the Center for American Progress today is that it is becoming a huge embarrassment.
Update: The Nation has just published a letter from a dozen Center for American Progress employees who object to the Netanyahu invitation. Some of them are upset by Netanyahu’s “crimes” of last summer:
Some of our teams have a concern that there’s something distinctly not bold or progressive about referring to the Prime Minister as “someone with whom we disagree” or “someone who said some terrible things.” We disagree with Mitch McConnell; Don Lemon has said some terrible things. So this is not just a “policy difference,” this is a person who continues to defend the deaths of over 2000 people—many of them children—last summer alone. What do we call a disagreement of that magnitude? A thing that terrible? Would we bring other leaders to this institution who had committed similar crimes?
The Washington Post is questioning the invitation and quoting extensively from real progressives like Eve Ensler, Samer Khalaf, Zaid Jilani, Naomi Klein and Noura Erekat attacking the center for the invitation. Dana Milbank, a pro-Israel columnist at the Post, blasts Netanyahu for soliciting the invitation, saying that the engagement will only further politicize support for Israel and lead the left to boycott. It will.
That protest letter to CAP explains what the Democratic establishment is missing.
The outrage over CAP’s invitation to Netanyahu illustrates how out of touch one of the Democratic party’s leading institutions has become with the changing opinions of the Democratic base in regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
As Rebecca Vilkomerson of Jewish Voice for Peace adds:
“It is unconscionable that a think tank that professes liberal values is giving a platform to a warmongering, racist, neo-conservative like Netanyahu to make his case.”
Exactly: Why is the Democratic Party so infused with neoconservatism? This is the great puzzle that the media and even our leftwing analysts fail to comprehend. When CAP famously censored three excellent journalists in its employment four years ago because they dared to express criticisms of Israel, it did so at the urging of Republicans and neoconservatives: beginning with Josh Block now of the Israel Project and Benjamin Weinthal of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies– who said that the writers were “infected with Jew hatred.”
Rather than standing up for its writers, leaked emails show that CAP tried to obtain a Good Housekeeping seal from four rightwing Israel lobby organizations: the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, and the American Israel Education Foundation– which took some members of CAP on an Israel trip.
CAP tried to remove the stain by hiring Matt Dorf, who had worked for a Sheldon Adelson project, to do pr pushback. Dorf counseled CAP president Neera Tanden to reach out to Alan Dershowitz.
And when Americans for Peace Now issued a statement in defense of the CAP writers, saying that neoconservative attacks must not be allowed to succeed, a top official at CAP brought the news to Tanden and Tanden scoffed at Peace Now. According to a CAP email never published:
[S]he laughed and sarcastically said something like, “that’s really gonna help us!!”
One of the censored writers, Ali Gharib (a friend of mine), wrote in the Nation that the Netanyahu invitation is no surprise to him; AIPAC urged the invitation, and CAP was bending over backwards to AIPAC and the very rightwing groups who attacked the CAP journalists at the same time as it was censoring their work. He told me:
“Watching what unfolded was really remarkable because it was watching the various nodes of the Israel lobby light up… And instead of standing up and saying, Hey if you want to point to errors in our journalists’ work, we’ll correct them, CAP said, How can we play ball to make this all go away? I was miserable. I was totally demoralized. I didn’t have to correct any of my stories about the Israel lobby and here I was being told I had to change the work I was doing. They folded like a cheap suit.”
Again, though, the $64,000 question is Why? Why is the progressive thinktank so beholden to neoconservatives? And it’s not just CAP. Why is CAP’s friend Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy position virtually indistinguishable from the neoconservatives’ policy? Why did President Obama crack down on the Democratic Party rank and file who wanted to leave out the Jerusalem-is-Israel’s -capital language from the Democratic platform in 2012? Why are leftwing groups like Peace Now who worked hard for the Iran Deal getting no goddamn dividend from the president today? No, Israel is getting the dividend. More aid. Yet another White House meeting between Obama and Israel’s fascistic premier who slaughtered 500 children in Gaza just a year ago. The most meetings Obama has had with any foreign leader.
The answer is not a conspiracy of donors. Though, yes, donors matter. The answer is the importance of Zionism inside the US establishment. It is the sincere belief among empowered Jews like Dana Milbank, Alan Dershowitz, and Matt Dorf that the establishment of Israel was the redemptive end point of a tragic European Jewish history, and that American Jews are equal partners in the fulfillment of that redemption. This is a sincere, core belief on the part of countless Jewish politicians, journalists, donors and thinktank officials, many of them liberals.
It is a powerful idea that many young Jews are taking on, notably Jewish Voice for Peace. But it is the reigning idea inside Jewish political life, and a giant problem for U.S. foreign policy.
Update: Forgot to say: Ali Gharib is a good friend of mine. Should have noted that originally.