Despite objections from liberals and progressives, the Center for American Progress (CAP) hosted Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday afternoon, giving him a platform to spout wild fabrications and half-truths to a left-leaning audience completely unchallenged.
As Politico aptly put it, the Israeli prime minister “stepped into a liberal lions’ den on Tuesday — and walked away with nary a scratch.”
The event was billed as a “moderated conversation” between Netanyahu and the influential Democratic-leaning think tank’s president Neera Tanden. But far more monologue than dialogue, it felt like an hour-long one-man show starring an Israeli leader who seemed to be on a mission to determine how many lies he could tell without challenge.
It was a remarkable spectacle mostly because Netanyahu is a hardline right-winger whose ideological counterparts in the US include far-right figures like Texas Senator Ted Cruz and TV personality and real-estate tycoon Donald Trump, Republican presidential hopefuls who would never be met with such an abject display of deference by a Democratic partisan like Tanden.
As Netanyahu advanced one absurd fabrication after another, Tanden looked like a deer in the headlights, nodding along smiling and at times giggling.
When Tanden did get a word in, it was to pose softball questions or shower Netanyahu and Israel with fawning praise.
“There’s many areas … where we, progressives can learn lessons from Israel,” Tanden declared in one of the most pathetic displays of pandering. With a wide smile, Tanden continued: “Israel’s military has been inclusive of women for a very long time. Are there lessons in that space for us in the United States that you can share with us?”
She made no mention of the war crimes, particularly against Palestinian woman and children, the Israeli military has committed, especially in Gaza in the summer of 2014, with full support from the United States.
Netanyahu tried to appeal to liberal sentiments with predictable hasbara — propaganda — talking points about Israel’s exemplary democracy.
“I’d like to talk to a progressive audience about progressive values,” he said in his opening remarks, boasting, against all available evidence, that the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel “are enshrined,” as are women’s and gay rights.
Netanyahu also claimed, “There have been no new settlements built in 20 years.” He even dared the audience to “Google it,” as if he was testing CAP to determine how large a lie the room would let him get away with. Israeli settlement construction in the occupied West Bank has exploded in recent decades, though Israel claims — as if it makes a difference — that it is mostly expanding existing settlements rather than founding new ones.
He went on to deny that Israel engages in ethnic cleansing or land theft.
“What is this ethnic cleansing business?” he demanded to know, insisting that there are Arabs living “everywhere.”
“There’s massive Arab construction,” reasoned Netanyahu. Perhaps Israel’s demolition of more than 28,000 Palestinian homes since 1967 is a figment of the Palestinian imagination. Had Netanyahu said that, chances are Tanden would not have objected.
What settler violence?
“You’ve made the point, and you’re absolutely right, that Israel is a rare democracy in a dangerous neighborhood,” Tanden told Netanyahu, validating a key propaganda talking point that frames Israel as a beacon of light surrounded by uncivilized and irrational Arabs.
“I want to acknowledge that we very much condemn the heinous knife attacks targeting innocent Israelis … We stand against such acts of violence,” she added, totally ignoring the more than 70 Palestinians including at least 15 children killed by Israeli forces since 1 October, dozens in what Amnesty International labeled a “clear pattern” of summary executions.
Tanden did at least acknowledge that “innocent Palestinians have also been killed,” citing the 31 July settler arson attack in the occupied West Bank village of Duma that burned 18-month-old Ali Dawabsha alive. His parents, Riham and Saad, died from their injuries in the following weeks, making an orphan of Ali’s severely burned 4-year-old brother Ahmad.
Israel’s defense minister admitted that authorities know who is responsible but have chosen to prevent prosecution of the killers.
“There’s a concern that the vast majority of cases of settler violence against Palestinians have not been prosecuted. What do you say to that?” asked Tanden, marking one of the only moments of adversarial questioning.
“That’s not true,” protested Netanyahu, who proceeded to minimize settler violence as practically nonexistent. “Except for Duma. Duma is real,” he conceded, adding, “There are many Dumas on the Palestinian side [against Israelis] … every four hours we have a Duma.”
“There is no symmetry in Israeli and Palestinian societies. We do not teach our children to hate. We don’t send them to suicide kindergarten camps. We do not teach them that we have to obliterate Palestine. We do not name public squares after mass murderers.”
Netanyahu also tried to sell Israel as a hub for technological innovation.
“I have diplomats coming from Asia, Africa and Latin America. And they all want three things,” he bragged. “First, Israeli technology. Second, Israeli technology. Third, Israeli technology.”
Netanyahu isn’t wrong, but he did leave out some key details.
Israel is indeed an innovation hub, but only because it produces cutting edge repression technology — like drones, surveillance systems and militarized border measures — that have been tested and refined on Palestinians under occupation. Netanyahu also forgot to mention that Israel’s repression technology is often sold to abusive and tyrannical governments.
But Tanden didn’t challenge him on that either. Instead she let him ramble on about his so-called “start-up nation,” prompting Netanyahu to issue one of the only truthful statements of the hour.
“I wanted to get my commercial in so you could understand how great an investment Israel is,” he remarked.