CAP Fellow Teams Up with BDS Group to Thwart Israeli Visa Bill

Involvement reignites charges of anti-Semitism against CAP

Israel supporter interacts with member of a anti-Israel U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation rally / AP
• May 21, 2014 6:30 pm


A fellow at the Center for American Progress (CAP) Leadership Institute was scheduled to moderate a congressional briefing Wednesday on ways to kill a piece of legislation that makes it easier for Israelis to obtain U.S. visas.

The briefing, held on Capitol Hill in a Senate office building, was organized by the group American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), and was to include remarks from an official of the group U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, one of the leading sponsors of the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The groups seek to stop Congress from passing a bill that would relax regulations and allow Israelis to more easily get U.S. travel visas.

"The purpose is to educate legislators about Israel's discriminatory actions at points of entry against Americans of Palestinian and other Arab heritage and Americans of the Muslim faith," AMP explained in a statement.

CAP Leadership Institute fellow Yasmine Taeb, who formerly worked as the government relations manager for the Arab American Institute (AAI), was scheduled to moderate the panel.

CAP’s involvement in a briefing that includes a prominent BDS group and was meant to kill pro-Israel legislation threatens to reignite what had been a firestorm over allegations that the liberal organization promoted anti-Israel, and at times, anti-Semitic rhetoric.

During the 2012 scandal, several CAP staffers were forced to sever ties with the organization after they were caught employing the slur "Israel Firster," a term with origins in the white supremacist movement that suggests Jewish Americans are more loyal to Israel than America.

Several of the scheduled speakers at Wednesday’s Hill briefing back the anti-Israel BDS movement and have been criticized for defending the use of the slur "Israel Firster."

The U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, for instance, is one of the leading groups behind the BDS movement, an anti-Semitic movement that aims to economically cut off Israel and Jewish people.

James Zogby, head of the Arab American Institute (AAI), which has defended the use of the controversial term "Israel Firster," was also scheduled to attend.

The organizations and speakers at the briefing oppose the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act and the Visa Waiver Act, a measure by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.) and Roy Blunt (R., Mo.) that would strengthen ties between the nations and permit Israelis to travel to America for up to 90 days without a visa.

AMP and its allies argue that Israel should not be granted special status because it "has maintained a policy of discriminating against" travelers that it suspects of being terrorists or having ties to terror organizations.

"Please help us stop the Visa Waiver bill!" the group wrote in an email blast to supporters. "Get your officials to attend [sic] Capitol Hill briefing."

Leading pro-Israel voices said that CAP should be wary of permitting its fellows to team up with such anti-Israel groups.

"I think Sen. Boxer and the many Democrats supporting this legislation would be shocked and deeply disturbed to see CAP leading a discussion of well known anti-Israel voices seeking to derail her legislation," said Josh Block, president and CEO of The Israel Project (TIP).

"Rather than attacking democrats and undermining closer ties with our allies, progressives who believe in fundamental democratic values like women's rights, gay rights, freedom of speech, religion, assembly, who prize tolerance and diversity should be supporting closer ties with Israel—the only country in the Middle East that shares them with us," Block said.

CAP’s reputation in the pro-Israel world is still tarnished from the 2012 scandal in which several staffers employed language that many considered to be anti-Semitic.

Writers for the CAP Action Fund’s ThinkProgress blog also came under fire for taking aim at pro-Israel groups such as American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and others.

The controversy even prompted a rebuke by the Obama administration, which is closely tied to CAP.

The White House’s Jewish liaison at the time reportedly stated "that [the attitude toward Israel at the think tank] is not this administration."

Senior CAP staffers additionally admitted at the time in leaked email that its staffers had employed language that was anti-Semitic.

Given CAP’s history on the issue, some pro-Israel insiders said they were not surprised to see CAP Leadership Institute fellow Taeb participating in the Hill briefing.

"What else is new?" said one senior official with a pro-Israel organization. "CAP allowed its employees to imply that sitting members of Congress, including Democrats, had been bribed by Jewish money to act on behalf of Israel not the United States. Compared to that, why not collaborate with anti-Semitic organizations on undermining the U.S.-Israel relationship? It almost counts as progress, comparatively."

CAP Leadership Institute fellow Taeb appears to be an avid reader of the Washington Free Beacon, according to her Twitter feed.

A CAP spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on Taeb’s participation in the Hill briefing.