Three years ago two writers got run out of the Democratic thinktank the Center for American Progress by the Israel lobby. We wrote a lot about it at the time. Rightwing Republican Israel supporters smeared the writers for stuff they were writing about Israel at Think Progress; and lo and behold they were gone in months. Ali Gharib and Eli Clifton–all moved on to more independent pastures after they were censored by CAP.
We kept hoping it would be a scandal. It showed neoconservative/lobby influence in the Democratic Party. But the press largely ignored the story.
Well now, in the runup to Benjamin Netanyahu’s red-carpet invitation to the Center for American Progress on November 10, Glenn Greenwald has published CAP emails from 2012 showing that the neocons and AIPAC had Democratic friends pressuring the writers. Ann Lewis and Howard Wolfson, former Hillary Clinton aides with a lot of clout, came down hard on CAP, and CAP wilted.
Greenwald writes in the Intercept :
[The emails] show [CAP president Neera] Tanden and key aides engaging in extensive efforts of accommodation in response to AIPAC’s and Lewis’ vehement complaints that CAP is allowing its writers to be “anti-Israel.”
Greenwald says that CAP exerts “massive influence” on Dems in Washington. And that it is trying to please donors by pleasing AIPAC.
Under Tanden, the group has repeatedly demonstrated it will go to almost any length to keep AIPAC and its pro-Israel donors happy, regardless of how such behavior subverts its pretense of independent advocacy…
These newly published emails reveal AIPAC-pleasing efforts far more heavy-handed than previously known. On January 20, 2012 — at the height of the controversy over ThinkProgress’ publications on Israel — Tanden wrote an email to CAP founder John Podesta and several of her top aides, including ThinkProgress editor Judd Legum. In that email, Tanden recounted an angry call she received from Ann Lewis who, among other D.C. roles, served as the representative of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign on Jewish matters and is also a board member of Block’s hard-line group The Israel Project. The email reflects the censorship demands being imposed on CAP over Israel and how seriously Tanden was taking those demands:
Ann Lewis– Barney Frank’s sister– has said that the job of the president of the United States is to support the decisions of the people of Israel. She was all over Tanden because Israeli ambassador Michael Oren was called a “liar.” Yes, the guy is a fabulist. But you can’t say so in Democratic circles:
That phone call was preceded by a rambling, detailed email from Lewis to Tanden, describing the audit she conducted of ThinkProgress’ output over several weeks about Israel and identifying all of the offending material. “Ambassador Michael Oren was called a liar in two posts,” complained Lewis, and “there are regular criticisms of the Israeli government” but “no mention of rocket attacks from Gaza.”
After Clifton and Gharib had established connections between funders of Israeli settler groups and an Islamophobic film being promoted in the U.S., Center for American Progress censored the piece under pressure from Howard Wolfson:
It begins with an email from long-time Democratic Party operative Howard Wolfson, formerly a top aide to Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer, which provides a link to the piece with one simple message: “For the love of god!”
Soon after their article was published, it was severely censored. Virtually every reference to Israelis was simply deleted.
[A]fter his article was censored, Gharib was told by a CAP editor that he was to avoid criticizing American Jewish groups, such as AIPAC, under any circumstances. When he asked whether this was a temporary ban in light of the controversy or a permanent one — i.e., when he could once again write about such groups — the editor told him: “For AIPAC? Probably never.”..
The censorship worked. Ken Gude was chief of staff at CAP:
[E]xactly one week after publication of the heavily censored post — Gude wrote an excited email to top CAP officials, including Tanden. The subject was Gude’s meeting with AIPAC’s deputy director of policy and government affairs, Jeff Colman, which Gude gushed was “very positive.”
In light of “the steps we have taken” — the public apologies, the censorship, the denouncing of CAP’s own writers — AIPAC, said Gude, deemed that CAP “now was moving in the right direction.” The AIPAC official singled out several CAP staffers for praise, saying AIPAC now believes “CAP/AF is in good hands.” Gude celebrated the rewards CAP was likely to receive for its good behavior: “I bet we get a lot of invitations to attend” an upcoming AIPAC event, Gude predicted.
Brian Katulis, a national security expert at CAP who gets interviewed a lot, is also caught up in the scandal. Jeff Colman at AIPAC likes him; Katulis must be doing something wrong.
“Jeff is a big fan of Rudy and Brian.” “Rudy” is Rudy DeLeon, who, in addition to serving as a CAP senior fellow and being a former Pentagon official, is now a member of the board of directors of General Dynamics; he’s literally being paid by weapons manufacturers as he helps manage CAP’s positions. “Brian” is Brian Katulis, also a CAP senior fellow whose “work focuses on U.S. national security policy in the Middle East and South Asia”; he simultaneously works as a senior adviser to the “strategic consulting” firm Albright Stonebridge Group, “assisting clients with issues related to the Middle East and South Asia.” Katulis was one of the first to publicly distance CAP from the work of its own writers on Israel.
This is just more evidence if we needed any that the Israel lobby is a corrupting influence in our politics, that leading Democrats kiss up to it to keep donors happy. And many of these Dems do so because they are true believers, by the way. Ann Lewis is a true believer. Bernie Sanders, too. They’re Zionists.
Oh and it turns out Donald Trump sucked up to Sheldon Adelson. I thought he didn’t suck up to anyone. No: he sent him a book of photos of himself at a pro-Israel event. Even Trump knows, you gotta serve somebody.
Update: This post initially said that three writers got run out of CAP. But Matt Duss, who was also targeted by the lobby, didn’t leave for another two years, in 2014. The post has been changed to correct the error.