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NGOs slam ‘anti-Semitic’ US think tank comments
By BENJAMIN WEINTHAL, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
01/01/2012
"Think tanks are entitled to their political viewpoints – but they’re not free to slander with impunity," AJC says of CAP.
 
The American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League weighed in last week on the mushrooming anti-Israel scandal surrounding a group of bloggers working for the US think tank Center for American Progress (CAP).

Jason Isaacson, the AJC’s director of government and international affairs, told The Jerusalem Post by e-mail on Friday that “think tanks are entitled to their political viewpoints – but they’re not free to slander with impunity. References to Israeli ‘apartheid’ or ‘Israel-firsters’ are so false and hateful they reveal an ugly bias no serious policy center can countenance.”

He called on CAP to “disavow them and put a stop to them.”

CAP, which has an estimated annual budget of $38 million, formulates policy suggestions about the Middle East for the Democratic party and politicians.

Zaid Jilani wrote on Twitter, where he is identified as a blogger for CAP website ThinkProgress, “So DC ‘liberals’ are going to spend a lot of time defending Obama against the charge that he’s not supportive enough of Israeli apartheid.”

In an earlier Twitter item, Jilani termed US supporters of the Jewish state “Israel- Firsters.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center and NGO Monitor in Jerusalem blasted Jilani and CAP for stoking hatred of Jews.

In addition to these “dualloyalty” accusations, Ali Gharib, a CAP blogger, suggested in a Twitter item that US Senator Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) was more loyal to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) than to the United States. Gharib asserted that Kirk represented the pro- Israel organization in Congress.

After the Post reported last week on Gharib’s comment, he wrote that “one [of] my tweets several months ago, a crude characterization of a senator, is being seized upon by critics branding me as an anti-Semite.

While the accusations are completely false and contemptible, I do apologize for the crudeness of the flippant tweet in question.”

The ADL, meanwhile, issued an e-mail statement to the Post last week citing two expressions of anti-Semitism at CAP.

One was the “Israel Firsters” comment, which the ADL said was “playing into the old anti- Semitic notion that Jews are more loyal to some foreign entity than to their own country.”

However, the ADL acknowledged that Jilani had “later tweeted that he didn’t realize the implication of this term, apologized for it, and indicated he would be more careful about his language.”

The second example it cited was “an accusation in a blog that the Israel lobby was marching America to war against Iran as it did with regard to Iraq.” The ADL expressed “strong disagreements” with the way CAP addressed issues relating to Israel, American-Israeli relations and US policy in the Middle East.

“Most of their blogs come from a perspective of blaming Israel for the lack of progress in Israeli-Palestinian affairs and minimizing or rationalizing the Iranian threat,” the statement read.

Critics also accuse CAP blogger Eli Clifton of ignoring indications that Iran is working on a nuclear device and of pushing a biased agenda against the Jewish state.

The ADL wrote that it had “raised our concerns directly with CAP about the preponderance of articles critical of Israel.”

In response to the Jewish groups’ criticism, CAP spokeswoman Andrea Purse told the Post on Saturday that “hundreds of articles and policy papers from the Center for American Progress and ThinkProgress demonstrate our longstanding support for Israel and the two-state solution to Middle East Peace Process as being in the moral and national security interests of the United States.”

She stressed her organization’s abhorrence of anti-Semitism, noting that CAP had “written about its continuing undercurrents and takes any allegation of anti-Semitism extremely seriously. A handful...

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 never will.”

The spokeswoman added, however, that the think tank would also not tolerate “attempts to ascribe to CAP or ThinkProgress views we clearly do not hold or attack us by association with individuals and groups we have no connection with whatsoever.”

She refused to comment on whether CAP agreed with Matthew Duss, the director of the think tank’s Middle East Progress department, who has compared Israel’s policies to racism in America’s “segregated South.”

Duss declined to answer repeated queries regarding these statements.

Multiple attempts to reach CAP president John Podesta, who was former president Bill Clinton’s chief of staff, were also unsuccessful.

CAP staffers’ remarks on the Jewish state have attracted growing concern from Demcoratic and Republican congressional officials.

“I think what we’re seeing play out is a power struggle inside the Democratic Party over the very nature of the USIsrael relationship,” a senior Republican Senate aide told the Post. “There are some forces on the far-Left who insist on perpetuating anti-Semitic stereotypes as a way to achieve their political goals and to change US policy toward Israel. And then you have individuals in the Center-Left, like a Josh Block [the former Clinton administration and AIPAC spokesman who first brought the CAP bloggers’ comments to the attention of Washington news site Politico in December], who are pushing back and saying enough is enough.”
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