November 9, 2015; Foreign Policy
Yesterday afternoon, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stopped by the liberal, Hillary Clinton-linked think tank, the Center for American Progress, as part of his fence-mending tour of America. He campaigned with the help of Congressional Republicans to scuttle the nuclear deal with Iran, alienating the Obama administration and the president himself.
The scheduled visit at the Center for American Progress prompted some significant criticism from American liberals, who suggested that CAP was being used or played by Netanyahu. NPQ wrote about some of the reactions, including critical comments from disaffected former CAP employees.
Yesterday, reports in Foreign Policy and other outlets suggested that the nonprofit think tank endured internal dissension over the invitation to Netanyahu. According to John Hudson writing for Foreign Policy, Winnie Stachelberg, the Center’s executive vice president for external affairs, and Brian Katulis, a senior fellow, called an all-staff meeting last week to explain and defend the Netanyahu invitation. They promised staff that Netanyahu would “undergo tough scrutiny in a question-and-answer format” focusing on issues regarding Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.
Hudson writes that after the Stachelberg and Katulis statements, “around a dozen CAP employees stood up and delivered an impassioned joint statement criticizing CAP’s decision to hold the event, read aloud by a designated speaker.” One unidentified CAP staffer in the meeting remarked to Foreign Policy that “It was clear that the sentiment was that this was the wrong choice to make as a progressive institution that cares about human rights, justice, and the oppressed.” The staff member characterized the staff statement as a “rebuttal” to Stachelberg and Katulis.
The rebuttal received “an enthusiastic round of applause” from the 100 or so staff in the meeting. According to one participant in the meeting, “it was practically the whole room clapping for 10-15 seconds,” said another staffer in the room.”
The full staff rebuttal is here, thanks to The Nation, reprinted for the uniqueness of seeing the internal conflict of a nonprofit institution revealed on the public stage:
We all came to work at this institution with a passion and belief for the CAP mission, being an organization dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans, through bold, progressive ideas and to change the conversation and to change the country.
Coming to work at CAP gives many of us the opportunity to make this country safe and accepting of all. While we watch the hate crimes, discrimination and biases faced by some of our communities, we come to work every day proud that this institution is a space where our voices will be respected and where our leadership assures we feel safe, respected and heard. In that sense this place isn’t so much a job or a profession or a nine-to-six. It’s a survival tactic. But it’s not just about our individual struggles because, in the words of MLK, we’re not free until we’re all free.
And at CAP we are a family. We spend more hours with one another at this institution than we do with our own families and friends outside the office. It is imperative that we feel confident in this building to improve the lives of all Americans, and essentially to work on getting us all free. It becomes difficult to step outside of our building and say to our allies why this visit is happening, for some of us here we ourselves feel that we were not considered in that decision.
We come with questions and thoughts on how things have been developing and where we go from here:
- Our approach is to think creatively at the cross section of traditional boundaries. It’s hard to talk about poverty without talking about the economy or women’s issues or education. Similarly, it’s hard to separate American progress from world progress when young people in Palestine are advising young people in Ferguson on how to deal with tear gas and flash grenades. So, while the decision occurred in the policy portfolio of [CAP’s national security team], the ramifications of that decision lives outside of that team.
- Some of our teams have a concern that there’s something distinctly not bold or progressive about referring to the Prime Minister as “someone with whom we disagree” or “someone who said some terrible things.” We disagree with Mitch McConnell; Don Lemon has said some terrible things. So this is not just a “policy difference,” this is a person who continues to defend the deaths of over 2000 people—many of them children—last summer alone. What do we call a disagreement of that magnitude? A thing that terrible? Would we bring other leaders to this institution who had committed similar crimes?
- Finally, on the free exchange of idea