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Netanyahu Escapes Liberal Event Without Any Fireworks
Those eager to see fireworks between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the president of the liberal Center for American Progress left disappointed on Tuesday after the tightly scripted event ended without so much as an irritated glare.
Those eager to see fireworks between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the president of the liberal Center for American Progress (CAP) left disappointed on Tuesday after the tightly scripted event ended without so much as an irritated glare.
Netanyahu, in his first-ever appearance at the liberal think tank, struck a casual and even playful tone as he defended his government’s policies toward Arab citizens and blamed Palestinians for the lack of progress toward a two-state solution to their long-running conflict. Neera Tanden, a former Hillary Clinton aide and the president of CAP, stuck to her prepared questions and moved on to new topics quickly.
Tanden, who is not a Middle East expert, refrained from follow-ups, allowing Netanyahu to stick to most of his standard talking points. Her performance drew immediate criticism from Middle East experts and left-leaning critics.
“[H]er ‘interview’ was really pitiful,” Barbara Slavin, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, wrote in a tweet.
“Unfortunately @neeratanden showed neither knowledge nor inclination to ask follow-up questions that wouldve [sic] made Netanyahu event defensible,” tweeted Matt Duss, president of the left-leaning Foundation for Middle East Peace and a former CAP employee.
Netanyahu’s appearance was part of a wider visit to Washington designed to repair his ties with President Barack Obama’s administration, congressional Democrats, and the staffers and supporters of left-leaning groups like CAP.
The event came one day after progressives inside and outside the organization questioned whether the group should offer the Israeli leader a platform to speak given his hard-line policies toward the Palestinians and his strained ties with Obama. CAP leaders had promised critics within the organization that Netanyahu would be pressed about his more controversial positions.
Tanden’s questions weren’t all softballs. Sitting next to Netanyahu at the packed, invitation-only event, she asked him about Israeli settler attacks on Palestinians and Netanyahu’s pre-election campaigning in March in which he warned that “Arab voters are coming out in droves,” a racially tinged remark that drew harsh criticism from the Obama administration.
On Tuesday, Netanyahu acknowledged that those remarks were “wrong,” but vigorously denied that the Israeli government is responsible for the absence of a long-sought peace deal with the Palestinians. As he has in the past, Netanyahu noted Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, which resulted in the ascent of the anti-Israel group Hamas, as justification for Israel’s reluctance to hand over land to the Palestinians.
“If we were to set up a Palestinian state, how do we make sure that that state does not become another Gaza and is not committed to our destruction and doesn’t work for our destruction?” he said.
Appearing before the progressive group, Netanyahu also castigated LGBT activists who have expressed solidarity with foes of Israel who do not respect the rights of gay and lesbian people.
“I see ‘Gays for Gaza’ or, I don’t know, ‘Gays for Iran.’… People who do that are supporting the people who would murder them,” he said. “They hang gays on cranes in Iran. If you’re gay in Gaza, your fate is sealed.”
The event followed Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama at the White House on Monday, the first such gathering of the two leaders since their bruising battle over the Iran nuclear deal. Netanyahu used the session to repeatedly and effusively thank Obama for his support for Israel’s security, and the two leaders downplayed their past differences. Instead, they said they would begin discussing plans for future U.S. military assistance to Israel as part of a new memorandum of understanding to be negotiated over the next two years.
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