Leading Democratic think tank under fire for legitimizing Netanyahu

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

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 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 president. 

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 premier.

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, adding, “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 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 pro-Israel 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 with 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 serve. 

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 added.

“[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.  

Editor’s note: this article previously stated that Ann Lewis is an AIPAC operative. It has been edited to clarify that, while she works closely with AIPAC, she is not their employee.




Hillary Clinton is a disaster. She is a churlish Margaret Thatcher without the wit.

She actually makes "The Donald" look good. One wonders whether Trump is paying her "to run".

I am voting socialist. That leaves Bernie Sanders out of the mix.


If the citizens neglect their Duty and place unprincipled men in office, the government will soon be corrupted; laws will be made, not for the public good so much as for selfish or local purposes; corrupt or incompetent men will be appointed to execute the Laws; the public revenues will be squandered on unworthy men; and the rights of the citizen will be violated or disregarded.": Noah Webster - (1758-1843)


I have given up on the Democratic party. I feel the way to go now is from the bottom up. Educate the public one person at time (if necessary) and hope we will be able to move the inert masses before they are made completely helpless by our militarized government. Everyone: stop talking to the Democrats and talk with your friend and neighbors. Remember Bernie is NOT the answer!


No decent human being, liberal or conservative, Democrat and Republican, can support the war criminal state of Israel. As an American taxpayer I resent our government gifting Israel with billions and billions of our hard earned money when we have needs going unmet in our own country. It's time for America to kick Israel and Saudi Arabia to the curb. We need neither of them. They are not our friends and allies.


Israel is not our ally. Israel is our enemy, our antagonist and our parasite, but Israel is no ally of the United States. Allies do not attack American naval ships (Liberty) and machine gun their allies trying desperately to escape on lifeboats. Allies do not make it their aim in life to create deadly enemies for their allies. Allies do not insult their allies, as does Israel while demanding billions and billions in welfare transfer payments, nor do allies constantly seek to undermine the leader of an allied nation. Israel is not our ally. With "friends" like Israel, who needs enemies?


Israel is a murderous rogue state, they have no friends just people they use to help perpetrate their crimes. Israel is a classic case of the abused becoming the abuser.


Our National Forests need funding. I'm extremely dissatisfied with subsidies for a military industrial complex and facilitating the strengthening of the IDF. This Christian is crying while his nations forests burn and Israel burns Palestinians.


Methinks the "leading (haha) Democratic think tank" is wall to wall FOB.
Yeah .. Friends of Bibi, and Co.


I wish people, including Jewish Voices for Peace, would stop describing CAP as a "progressive" organization that has just made an unfortunate mistake by hosting Netanyahu. This does a disservice to other peoples fighting US/NATO domination outside Palestine, most notably in Africa. CAP is home to the "ENOUGH Project to end genocide and crimes against humanity," which exists to advocate for US military intervention in Africa.

CAP also serves as a clearing house for donors seeking to buy access to Democratic politicians.


I was brought up in a political household (functionary level)
self-proclaimed "liberal" Democratic.

I was taught of my obligation to vote since birth, perhaps
before birth!

I have (I hope) grown up, and old. I refuse to vote for ANY
political candidate or political entity who supports in any
way the goals and objectives of AIPAC and Israel.

My second "red line in the sand" is that I will not support
any warhawks. Period.

I realize that that eliminates most candidates but reason
that ultimately it is THEIR decision(s), not mine.

How many are willing in the end to "vote(non-vote) with
your feet" as the US saying goes.

I keep in touch with my AIPAC-controlled politicians on
other issues. (They have been informed of my basic
positions.) They have decided that they do not "need"
my vote.

----Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

Rania Khalek

Rania Khalek's picture

Rania Khalek is an independent journalist reporting on the underclass and marginalized.