When a prominent, progressive establishment think tank, the Center for American Progress, hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on November 10, 2015, it was widely criticized among the left. However, in an email sent by Neera Tanden, the think tank’s president, she defends the decision to welcome Netanyahu with open arms.
The email was published in the latest batch of “Podesta Emails” from WikiLeaks. It offers a glimpse at how Tanden, an adviser to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and moderator of CAP’s Netanyahu event, dealt with the controversy.
John Podesta, Clinton campaign chairman, sent her an email the day after the event. “As a bloodied Jack Nicholson said in Hoffa, ‘What has been gained and what has been lost?’ How did the Bibi event score on that scale?”
In Tanden’s reply, she clearly outlined the pros and cons of hosting Netanyahu.
“Things gained: We will never be called anti-Semitic again. No matter what anyone writes,” Tanden asserted. “Mainstream press and people think we handled it just right – tough questions. I think for any dismissers, not that I think there were a lot, but we have definitely proven we’re a think tank. And it may have sealed the deal with a new board member.”
Tanden continued, “Things lost: Staff is riven. On both sides. We are holding a lot of meetings on that. Worse thing – someone leaked staff statement. That kind of thing really changes the culture.”
“How to keep that culture with that kind of leaking is going to be hard, but need to navigate. And far left hates me. We do have a broader issue of expectations in the organization. I had an intern tell me that she was upset we did not tell her ahead of time.”
What was lost and gained is expressed purely in institutional terms. Tanden writes nothing about what CAP may have done to give Netanyahu cover for the crimes the Israeli government commits against Palestinians through its occupation. She has no words for what this may mean for the people of Gaza, who endure poverty and face humanitarian disaster as a result of an economic blockade.
Overall, Tanden concludes, “Nothing we have done has pitted being a think tank and being ideologically action oriented against each other more harshly. At the end of the day, we had to choose.”
“So answer is complicated. If I could have the whole thing not happen, would definitely have it not happen. But it happened to us.”
Inviting a world leader is not something that just happens, like a branch breaking a car’s windshield when it falls out of a tree. Tanden and other leaders of CAP actively sought to host Netanyahu, and they were proud of the prestige it could garner for them.
When she introduced Netanyahu, Tanden said, “Thank you for taking questions because the choices you make matter profoundly to Israel’s future and the future of the region. And we believe that matters profoundly to America.” Notably, she said nothing about the future of Palestinians.
Journalist Rania Khalek pointed out that Tanden let Netanyahu lie repeatedly during the event about the construction of new settlements, settler violence, land theft, and ethnic cleansing.
Tanden and other Clinton appointees served on the Democratic Platform Committee, and during the process, they blocked language that would have acknowledged there is, in fact, an Israeli occupation. They also refused to remove language suggesting the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement “delegitimizes” Israel.
A coalition of Clinton Democrats and other liberal Democrats blocked a resolution to support the rebuilding of Gaza during the full Democratic platform committee meeting in July.
Clinton has distinguished herself as a pro-Israel Democrat and will aggressively challenge the BDS movement as president. With the support of Democratic mega-donor Haim Saban, who has pledged to invest billions to fight BDS, Clinton celebrated college students on the “front lines of the battle to oppose the alarming boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement known as BDS” during her speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference.
Additionally, emails previously published by WikiLeaks already have shown that the letter Clinton wrote to Saban, where she pledged to fight BDS, was written to help the campaign attract more pro-Israel donors.
Returning to the CAP event for Netanyahu, in the week before the event, The Intercept published a story on leaked emails showing the lengths to which CAP was willing to go to “placate AIPAC.” The think tank censored “its own writers on the topic of Israel.”
Tanden may seem exasperated in the email. “I need to clear my head on this and then would love to get your advice on a few things in the coming days,” she shared in the email. However, it is not as if there was any kind of an about-face or open display of regret in the aftermath. Tanden and CAP served the interests of AIPAC, also known as the Israel lobby, and if called upon to hold a similar event as a service to a Clinton White House, they will be loyal soldiers and help whitewash the policies of Israel again.