Netanyahu to Address Liberal Center for American Progress

Think tank criticized for anti-Israel positions, staffers in the past

Benjamin Netanyahu
October 28, 2015

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to speak next week at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank that has previously come under fire for its anti-Israel slant.

Netanyahu will address the group on Nov. 10, during his trip to the United States to meet with President Obama, the Huffington Post reported on Tuesday. News of the speech was first reported by Jewish Insider.

Several bloggers affiliated with CAP were accused of promoting anti-Semitic or anti-Israel tropes on social media in 2011 by using the term "Israel firster" and by suggesting that American supporters of Israel had dual loyalty to the Jewish state.

The Center for American Progress Action Fund’s ThinkProgress was also criticized for demonizing Israel.

The think tank initially defended the staffers, but quickly cut ties with one of the bloggers, Zaid Jilani. Others have since left.

Sources said Netanyahu was encouraged by Hillary Clinton donors to speak at a liberal think tank for "political balance," since he is also keynoting the conservative American Enterprise Institute’s annual dinner next week. The prime minister’s office initially approached CAP, which was founded by Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta, to set up an event.

Netanyahu’s decision was met with mild surprise in pro-Israel circles. However, it was also seen as an example of his willingness to speak to a diverse array of audiences.

"It is unusual for a head of state to speak before an institution that has been so unfairly critical of his government and country," said Noah Pollak, executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel. "But it will be worth it if he addresses, sensitively but candidly, the growing problem of left-wing animosity toward Israel."

"No one denies that the Center for American progress has published, and continues to publish, very problematic things about Israel," said Omri Ceren, managing director at The Israel Project, an organization that works with journalists on Middle East issues. "The prime minister’s speech there is evidence that he’ll go anywhere and talk to anybody about the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship to America’s and Israel’s national security."

Former CAP staffers who were caught up in the 2011 controversy criticized the think tank’s decision to give Netanyahu a platform.

"This is someone who is an enemy of the progressive agenda, who has targeted Israeli human rights organizations throughout his term, and was re-elected on the back of blatant anti-Arab race-baiting," former CAP analyst Matt Duss, who is now the president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, told the Huffington Post. "The idea that CAP would agree to give him bipartisan cover is really disappointing."