Though the purpose of his visit was multifaceted, it was his planned talk with the Center for American Progress – a progressive think tank with strong links to the Democratic establishment – that caused the most controversy. The invitation was extended to the Prime Minister after the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC reached out to CAP requesting the opportunity to address the think tank.
Indeed, among the loudest critics of the talk were former and current CAP staffers themselves. During a meeting with senior CAP leadership, a prepared statement was read expressing opposition to the Netanyahu invitation. Many felt that Netanyahu’s long history of transparently working with Republicans to scuttle Democratic foreign policy initiatives disqualified him from speaking in front of the think tank, and that doing so would grant him a “liberal stamp of approval.”
Some even felt that the invitation, made without all-staff approval, made it more difficult for CAP staffers to work with their largely progressive base. This includes active Palestinian solidarity activists and the Black Lives Matter movement. At one point it was read that “it’s hard to separate American progress from world progress when young people in Palestine are advising young people in Ferguson on how to deal with tear gas and flash grenades.”
It has been widely publicized that the American-Israeli relationship has been in choppy waters recently. Though some credit the rift to personal enmity between the two heads of state, it is more widely seen that Netanyahu’s continued settlement construction (another 2,500 units were announced upon Netanyahu’s arrival in Washington) and his work with the administration’s political rivals to scuttle the Iran nuclear deal are the nexus for the rocky state of the relationship. Netanyahu has even seen criticism at home for putting the special relationship at risk.
These moves present a concerted effort on the part of many in the Democratic establishment to bring the American-Israeli relationship back into the docile waters of bi-partisanship. In fact, only a few days before Netanyahu’s plane was to land in Washington, it was revealed by the Intercept that the CAP had gone through great lengths in the past to accommodate AIPAC in muzzling several writers and critics of Israel on its blog, ThinkProgress. This act of censorship culminated with the implementation of an editorial process designed to limit criticism of Israel. Earlier in November, Hillary Clinton herself penned an oped in The Forward describing the ways her prospective presidency would reconcile the “unshakeable bond” with Israel.
The talk, given last week, was largely seen as negative for the think tank. Repeated falsehoods by Netanyahu went unchallenged by a pandering CAP’s President Neera Tanden, who frequently laughed along rather than challenge the Prime Minister. In one particularly glaring instance, Tanden followed up a question on Netenyahu’s race-baiting for reelection with a question regarding the Israeli military’s “inclusivity.”
ThinkProgress, to its credit, was able to publish an article after the fact entitled, “10 Falsehoods Netanyahu Told During His Appearance at CAP.” Though the article may mollify some of the Democrat’s left-wing, much was left to be desired. As neatly summed up in the NonProfit Quarterly, this recent episode has “made this dubiously nonpartisan nonprofit look pretty clearly like a tool of two political campaigns, one Netanyahu’s to rebuild damaged ties with Democrats, the other the supporters of Hillary Clinton who don’t want to sacrifice pro-Israel voters or campaign donors in the run-up to 2016.”