Leading Democratic think tank under fire for legitimizing Netanyahu

by Rania Khalek
Lobby Watch
10 November 2015

Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu meeting with US President Barack Obama, 9 November. (Israeli GPO/Facebook)

The Center for American Progress (CAP) has come under heavy fire for its decision to host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his visit to Washington, DC this week.
On Tuesday morning the influential think tank, which functions as an arm of the Democratic Party, is scheduled to host a
conversation between Netanyahu and CAP president Neera Tanden, who also
happens to be a staunch supporter of Hillary Clinton’s campaign for
In recent days, Tanden added her voice to an online chorus of Clinton
supporters expending enormous amounts of energy to paint the Democratic
frontrunner’s leftist male detractors as sexists whose critiques are
rooted not in principled opposition to Clinton’s neoliberal hawkishness
but in misogyny.
With seemingly zero self-awareness, Tanden asked whether racism on
the left would be tolerated the way sexism supposedly has been against
her preferred presidential contender.

Ironically, the answer to Tanden’s question can be found in the
backlash to her speaking engagement with the openly racist Israeli

Given the enormous amount of push-back to CAP from both inside and
outside the organization, it appears that the left indeed has little
tolerance for those who collude with Israel’s rightwing regime.
Jewish Voice for Peace issued an open letter slamming CAP for giving Netanyahu a platform.
“Netanyahu knows that he has created a deep partisan divide in the US
over Israeli policies and is attempting to repackage his increasingly
far-right agenda as bi-partisan consensus,” states the letter, which has
been signed by more than 100 progressive leaders and organizations. “CAP should not be providing him with this opportunity.”
A petition started by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation condemning CAP has garnered thousands of signatures. A picket
is scheduled to take place outside the event. And current and former
CAP staffers are speaking out against the organization’s cooperation
with a race-baiting rightwing leader who has actively campaigned with
Republicans to get his way.

Damage control

This week’s visit is Netanyahu’s first since accepting an invitation
from Republicans in March to give a speech before congress against the
Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.
In an unprecedented break from the pro-Israel consensus that dominates congress, that speech was boycotted by dozens of Democrats.
The purpose of Netanyahu’s trip is to rectify that supposed rift between Israel and the Democratic Party, which is why, as The Huffington Post reported, “the Israeli government pushed hard for an invite to [CAP]” with help from the hardline Israel lobbying group AIPAC, “which also applied pressure to CAP to allow Netanyahu to speak.”
However, the rift is entirely superficial.
While it’s true that support for Israel among the Democratic base is trending down, this attitude has yet to be reflected among the party’s leadership.
Throughout his presidency, Obama has time and again rewarded Netanyahu for his racism and obstructionism.
In the midst of Israel’s merciless bombing campaign in Gaza in the summer of 2014, which killed 551 children, many of them deliberately, Obama replenished Israel’s weapons stockpile to ensure that the slaughter could continue without pause.
After Netanyahu race-baited his way to reelection, assembling the
most racist governing coalition in Israel’s history, the Obama
administration congratulated him with a $1.9 billion weapons package. And now the Obama administration is poised to increase
US military aid to Israel from $3 billion to $4.1 billion
annually, guaranteeing Israel’s capacity to reenact its 2014 butchery
against the people of Gaza.


Like Obama, CAP appears to be unfazed by Israel’s rising belligerence
towards Palestinians. In the months leading up to Netanyahu’s visit,
CAP pushed for more aid for Netanyahu’s murderous regime.
Meanwhile, Tanden has defended her organization’s decision to host Netanyahu, telling the Forward, “I
don’t think Israel is a lost cause for progressives … I’m a progressive
and I believe in change, and that things change for the better.”
Hosting Netanyahu, she insisted, is part of her organization’s
commitment to the “free exchange of ideas,” an absurd declaration that
completely contradicts the censorial bullying CAP’s leadership has
exerted over its writers and staffers in service to Israel.
Last week The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald published
a batch of leaked internal emails that reveal the scandalous measures
taken by CAP to pander to AIPAC, including censoring its own writers,
many of whom were ultimately pushed out of the organization for
reporting critically on Israel.
Tanden, at the behest of AIPAC operative Ann Lewis, even instituted a
special review policy for all Israel-related posts at the think tank’s
blog, Think Progress.
A former advisor to Hillary Clinton, Lewis once said,
“The role of the president of the United States is to support the
decisions that are made by the people of Israel. It is not up to us to
pick and choose from among the political parties.”
In recent years, Lewis has worked at AIPAC tirelessly to brand Israel as a worthy cause for progressive Democrats, particularly women.
Through AIPAC’s sister group, the American Israel Education Fund, Lewis has junketed several prominent liberal women on propaganda trips to Israel, including Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards.

Clinton loyalist

With Tanden in the driver’s seat, CAP has proven itself a staunch
ally to the interests of pro-Israel hardliners, often demonstrating
greater loyalty to Israel than to the Democratic Party it purports to
As Greenwald explained, “At first glance, CAP’s devotion to AIPAC and
Netanyahu may seem strange given that it is so plainly at odds with the
Obama White House’s interests. But CAP — like so many leading DC think
tanks with pretenses to objective ‘scholarship’ — has repeatedly proven
that it prioritizes servitude to its donors’ interests even over its
partisan loyalties.
“In the case of Israel and Netanyahu, there is an even more
significant factor at play: Tanden is far more of a Clinton loyalist
than an Obama loyalist, and a core strategy of the Clinton campaign is
to depict Hillary as supremely devoted to Israel,” he continued.
“[Clinton] has clearly adopted a strategy of siding with Netanyahu
and Israel over the Obama White House, and CAP, with its characteristic
subservience, is fully on board,” Greenwald wrote.
Indeed, just last week, Clinton penned an op-ed pledging unconditional loyalty to Netanyahu should she win the presidency.

Soft spot for tyrants

Like Clinton’s, Tanden’s hawkish outlook on foreign policy extends beyond Israel.
In one of the leaked email exchanges,
Tanden argued that Libya should be forced to hand over its oil revenue
as reimbursement for the US bombing campaign that has transformed Libya
into a lawless haven for extremist groups. “We have a giant deficit.
They have a lot of oil,” reasoned Tanden, an argument that puts her in
the same camp as Republican frontrunner Donald Trump.
Tanden also has a soft spot for tyrants beyond Netanyahu.
Under her direction, CAP has enthusiastically advocated for the US to strengthen ties with Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi, a Hindu nationalist with fascist roots.
In 2002, Modi oversaw a three-day long anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat, in which over 1,000 people were killed and women were systematically raped.
But Tanden didn’t let such horrors spoil her meeting with Modi last year, which she was “honored” to take part in.

CAP has also been an energetic proponent
of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who in 2013 orchestrated a
violent coup that ousted the first democratically elected president in
Egypt’s history and initiated a new era of ruthless state repression.

With these trends in mind, CAP’s alliance with Netanyahu and AIPAC is
not at all surprising. At the same time, the days of the American left
tolerating Israel’s atrocities against Palestinians are over. It’s only
a matter time before the Democratic Party and its myriad organs
are forced to reckon with the fact that “progressive except for
Palestine” is no longer an acceptable position.