During his much-buzzed-about visit to Washington D.C., Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s invitation to speak at a progressive think tank this week, was met with controversy. One day after he sat down with President Barack Obama at the White House for the first time in the year, Netanyahu spoke to an audience at the left-leaning Center for American Progress (CAP).
The hour-long conversation, moderated by CAP President Neera Tanden, was broad sweeping and expected. Netanyahu defended Israel’s new building projects, which most world leaders say are in violation of international law, his government’s support of infrastructure development and his growing concern over Iran and their role in the region.
Though there was pushback from CAP staff ahead of the appearance, CAP’s Tanden seemed almost differential to Netanyahu during the remarks, thanking him several times for his appearance and making a statement at the end, acknowledging the pushback, but maintaining that it was an important conversation to have. “Progress is impossible without dialogue,” Tanden said.
Weeks ahead of the speech, nearly a dozen CAP employees were openly upset about their institution’s acceptance of Netanyahu’s invitation to speak at the think tank. The employees read aloud a statement at a meeting among employees, stating, in part: “we know Prime Minister Netanyahu is set to come. But that decision was made in our collective name, without enough consideration of the diverse backgrounds and experiences dedicated employees bring to the table. Bringing in another head of state on ‘the other side’ is not the solution. Our goal is to promote humanity and shut down oppression and genocide and terrorism. Bringing in another head of state with a record of oppression would further push our mission away.”
Following the speech, CAP’s blog published a piece entitled “10 Falsehoods That Netanyahu Told During His Appearance At CAP,” which seemingly itemized Netanyahu’s talking points and aimed to take him to task.
The visit is Netanyahu’s first following the Obama administration’s passage of a nuclear deal with Iran, which effectively warmed relations between the United States and Iran after nearly three decades of political strain. Tensions between Netanyahu and the Obama administration hit a fever pitch in March, when Netanyahu spoke ahead a joint session of Congress, without the apparent consent of the White House. During his visit, which landed two weeks before elections in Israel, President Obama did not meet with the leader, citing the proximity in date to the elections. Netanyahu’s remarks focused almost solely on working to dissuade the US from signing an Iran deal. “This is a bad deal. It’s a very bad deal. We’re better off without it,” Netanyahu urged members of Congress that attended (nearly 60 members of Congress opted to not attend the speech). Despite the apparent tensions between the Obama administration and Netanyahu, the Israeli leader remarked that his meeting this week with the US president was “a very good meeting.”