Zaid Jilani had used Twitter to call American supporters of the Jewish state “Israel Firsters,” and he compared Israel to the former apartheid regime in South Africa. The Center for American Progress is linked to President Obama and closely tied to billionaire George Soros. “The situation at CAP is troubling,” White House Liaison Jarrod Bernstein told the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Abraham Cooper. “The attitude toward Israel at the think tank is not reflective of this administration.” Jilani’s biography and photograph have been removed from the ThinkProgress website’s “About” section, and his Twitter feed no longer identifies him as a reporter for the site.
The Center for American Progress is a Washington-based policy organization that regularly offers insights about the Middle East to President Obama and the Democratic Party, while Soros has reportedly donated millions of dollars to the think tank. Three major Jewish organizations – the Wiesenthal Center, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee – have condemned the anti-Israel commentary of Jilani and fellow CAP writers Eli Clifton, Ali Gharib, Matt Duss and Ben Armbruster as “infected with Jew-hatred and discriminatory policy positions toward Israel.” The Wiesenthal Center has stated that the think tank’s writers “are guilty of dangerous political libels resonating with historic and toxic anti-Jewish prejudices.”
Duss, who serves as CAP’s Middle East Progress director, wrote on its website that “the entire Israeli occupation” of the Gaza Strip is “a moral abomination” equivalent to America’s formerly segregated South. Armbruster, who has attacked Jewish critics for citing alleged anti-Israel and anti-Semitic tirades from the think tank’s writers, wrote “no comment” in an e-mail response to an inquiry about the controversy last week.
Shakir himself has described Jilani’s attribution of dual loyalty to supporters of Israel as “terrible anti-Semitic language.” As a result of the brouhaha, a source within the Democratic Party has claimed that the think tank has introduced a new social media policy to monitor and prevent prejudicial writings. CAP declined to confirm the existence of the new policy.
Critics also point to other writings on the CAP Web site, where staffers have suggested that AIPAC was pushing the United States toward war with Iran. “CAP hasn’t distanced itself from these comments or even acknowledged that they’re anti-Israel,” said Alana Goodman, an online editor of Commentary magazine. “If it deems them acceptable public comment, one wonders what the internal dialogue is like at the think tank — and among the alumni who have gone on to the Obama administration.” Goodman added that “At a minimum, the controversy highlights how progressive groups are working to undermine traditional Democratic support for Israel.”
Goodman asserted that shortly after the think tank was lambasted by a Jewish group for engaging in anti-Israel hatred, “President Obama met for coffee with the man who oversaw the offending content — Faiz Shakir, the site’s editor-in-chief.”
In another case, a staff member at CAP described a U.S. senator as showing more loyalty to the prime U.S. pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, than to his own constituents.
“The concept of ‘Israel Firsters’ suggests Jews are more loyal to a foreign country than to their own,” explained Dr. Jeffrey Herf, a historian and leading authority on anti-Semitism. “The notion that the Jews are rootless cosmopolitans, disloyal to any nation, especially to their own, was a feature of classical anti-Semitism in Europe and the United States in the 1930s. In the U.S. today, the isolationist Right and the ‘anti-imperialist Left’ are finding common ground in the attack on Israel.”
In a post on CAP’s website by Eli Clifton entitled “AIPAC’s Iran Strategy On Sanctions Mirrors Run-Up To Iraq War Tactics,” the writer concluded, “It would appear that AIPAC is now using the same escalating measures against Iran that were used before the invasion of Iraq.”
In response to the various accusations, the Center for American Progress stated, “We have a zero-tolerance policy on anti-Semitism. We have written critically about its continuing use in contemporary political debates, and we take any allegation of anti-Semitism extremely seriously. A very small number of tweets on the personal accounts of ThinkProgress staff were inappropriate, and the authors have publicly apologized for using objectionable language. That language never appeared in any CAP or ThinkProgress publication, and we have taken steps to ensure that all CAP staff maintain the highest standards in their communications, even in their personal social media accounts.”