Center officials tried to address concerns over an August ThinkProgress post titled “AIPAC’s Iran Strategy On Sanctions Mirrors Run-Up To Iraq War Tactics.” An update asserted that “we are not reporting on whether AIPAC lobbied for the Iraq war” and that the center is “very concerned about Iran’s nuclear program.”
Gude, in an e-mail, added that CAP does not believe AIPAC is pushing for war with Iran. “Iran’s policy choices are driving this situation, not anyone or any group in the United States,” he wrote.
Some progressive advocates who work closely with CAP dismiss the charges. “We are baffled and appalled by the charges of anti-Semitism that some have leveled at CAP,” wrote Matt Bennett, a spokesman for Third Way, an advocacy organization devoted to promoting centrist ideas.
David Harris, president of the National Jewish Democratic Council, described CAP’s views on Israel and Iran as reflecting “mainstream positions and concerns of the American Jewish community — and indeed of most Americans.”
A White House spokesman, Matt Lehrich, declined to comment on CAP. “Anyone who wants to know where the president stands need look no further than his own words and actions,” Lehrich said, adding that Obama “has repeatedly reiterated America’s unshakable commitment to Israel’s security and stood up against attempts to single out Israel in international forums.” He said that the administration has “ratcheted up unprecedented pressure on Iran.”
The critics are not mollified.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said some of the statements from CAP staffers “are anti-Semitic and borderline anti-Semitic.”
“We’re concerned about it because this is a serious think tank, and it does influence the administration,” Foxman added.
Jason Isaacson, of the American Jewish Committee, said he was concerned by “very troubling things that have been written on a pretty regular basis by certain people associated with the organization.”
“For any serious policy center there are certain lines of fairness and objectivity and good sense that should not be crossed, and yet, disturbingly, those lines have regularly been crossed,” he added.
The controversy could add friction to the already tense relationship between Obama and many pro-Israel Jews, a constituency the president has courted for donations and political support.
Significant Jewish population centers are targets for Obama’s campaign in the battleground states of Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and one of the campaign’s earliest hires was a Jewish outreach coordinator. Obama won nearly eight in 10 Jewish votes in 2008. Gallup polling shows his approval rating among Jews as of last month standing at 57 percent, 14 points higher than his overall approval rating.
Complicating the calculation is that many liberals have grown more critical of Israel’s policies as the government there has turned more to the right. Some young liberal Jews are expressing disaffection with a country their parents had taught them to revere.
At the same time, Israel’s supporters worry that greater instability in the Middle East and Iran’s quest for nuclear technology pose threats to Israel.
Those differences have grown more evident since the CAP controversy began in early 2011, when Jewish groups started quietly bringing complaints to center officials.
Last month, Josh Block, a former AIPAC spokesman and Clinton administration official, distributed a compilation of CAP staffers’ writings and other public statements that he said amounted to an “outrageous vilification of pro-Israel Americans.”
Some on the left argue that charges of anti-Semitism such as those being leveled at CAP shut down needed policy debates.
Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of
J Street, a left-leaning voice on Israel issues, said he had no problem with “Israel-firster.”
“If the charge is that you’re putting the interests of another country before the interests of the United States in the way you would advocate that, it’s a legitimate question,” Ben-Ami said.
Ben-Ami added that Jewish groups “should tread lightly” when they make accusations of anti-Semitism. “Because when they do need to use that word, people won’t take you seriously,” he said.