The Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank closely aligned with the White House, is embroiled in a dispute with several major Jewish organizations over statements on Israel and charges that some center staffers have used anti-Semitic language to attack pro-Israel Americans.
The controversy reflects growing divisions among important allies of President Obama over Middle East policy that could complicate the president’s reelection outreach to some Jewish voters, just as he is seeking to assure them of his commitment to Israel’s security amid fears of an Iran nuclear threat.
Among the points of contention are several Twitter posts by one CAP writer on his personal account referring to “Israel-firsters.” Some experts say the phrase has its roots in the anti-Semitic charge that American Jews are more loyal to a foreign country. In another case, a second staffer described a U.S. senator as showing more fealty to the prime U.S. pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, than to his own constituents, replacing a standard identifier of party affiliation and state with “R-AIPAC” on his personal Twitter account. The first writer has since left the staff.
Critics are also pointing to writings on the CAP Web site, where staffers have suggested the pro-Israel lobby is pushing the U.S. toward war with Iran and likened Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza to the policies of the segregated American South.
Those statements, among others, have gained notice largely because of CAP’s influential role in Obama’s Washington. Founded and chaired by John Podesta, a onetime chief of staff in the Clinton White House, the center is an idea generator for the administration and a source for many of its top officials.
At present, the Israel Lobby is likely to run into more resistance to this kind of smear than at other times. Right now, Israel has a right of center government that Republicans tend to feel more affectionate toward, whereas most American Jews are Democrats. This kind of disalignment tends to generate some healthy debate among Jews.
In the abstract, I'd probably want the U.S. to explore a deal with the Cuban government to lift sanctions in return for major Cuban concessions (Cuba is so needlessly poor after 50 years of Communism that there's a big win-win deal possible to de-Communize Cuba that would make a lot of money for Americans and for Cubans: here are some details of how to get the ball rolling to a de-Communized Cuba), but I recognize the power of the Cuba Libre lobby and I understand their motivations, so it's not a big deal for me. I'm likely more sympathetic to Israel in its dispute with the Palestinians than I am to the Cuba Libre lobby and I understand the Israel Lobby's power, so I don't care much at all about Israel pushing the Palestinians around.
What I do care about is the liberty and quality of debate in the U.S.
If we think of the Free Cuba lobby as a normal lobby, like the NRA or the NEA or the Armenians or the Turks or Big Pharma or whatever, lobbies that are often successful but are subject to the give and take of debate, then the goal should be for the Israel Lobby to be a normal lobby that wants everybody to talk about how powerful it is, instead of this force that tries, with some success, to control who can mention its very existence.