Beltway schism: Two top liberal institutions depart from Dems’ party line on Israel


Politico’s Ben Smith has a great story noting that two key Democratic-aligned Washington institutions “are challenging a bipartisan consensus on Israel and Palestine that has dominated American foreign policy for more than a decade.”

Smith reports:

The Center for American Progress, the party’s key hub of ideas and strategy, and Media Matters, a central messaging organization, have emerged as vocal critics of their party’s staunchly pro-Israel congressional leadership and have been at odds, at times, with Barack Obama’s White House, which has acted as a reluctant ally to Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israeli government.

The differences are ones of tone – but also of bright lines of principle – and while they have haven’t yet made any visible impact on Democratic policy, they’ve shaken up the Washington foreign policy conversation and broadened the space for discussing a heretical and often critical stance on Israel heretofore confined to the political margins.

The daily battle is waged in Media Matters’ emails, on CAP’s blogs, Middle East Progress and ThinkProgress and most of all on Twitter, where a Media Mattters official, MJ Rosenberg, regularly heaps vitriol on those who disagree as “Iraq war neocon liar” (the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg) or having “dual loyalties” to the U.S. and Israel (the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin). And while the Center for American Progress tends to walk a more careful line, warm words for Israel can be hard to find on its blogs.


Smith notes that bloggers for both organizations have been highly skeptical of the push for a tougher line on Iran. Some of the bloggers have taken a highly confrontational stance toward advocates of ratcheting up pressure on Tehran.

Smith reports that the Israeli-Palestinian issue has been the source of some tsuris for the organization’s leadership. And CAP officials stressed to him that what their bloggers write isn’t necessarily indicative of the organization’s views.

“I think there are different voices on the Think Progress blog and some individual analysts — and some of that work, especially the blog, is I think aimed at reporting on and reflecting one aspect of the diversity of the views among the broad progressive community,” senior fellow Brian Katulis wrote in an e-mail. “But what one blogger or analyst may write isn’t necessarily indicative of what our policy recommendations are for the administration or Congress when I’m doing meetings with our friends in government.”

While Smith examines the specific orientations of the bloggers in question (whose foreign policy roots range from realist to pretty far left), it’s also clear — and this comes through a bit in the article as well — that there are broader forces at work: Younger, self-identified progressive activist and writer types simply tend to hew to a very different line when it comes to Israel than do Democratic congressional leaders.

On the Middle East, CAP and Media Matters may be out of step with congressional Democrats, but they aren’t coming from left field. They are at least somewhat reflective of the milieu from which they draw.

Smith’s article is well worth reading in full.

UPDATE 12/8: The Center for American Progress has responded angrily to Politico’s article here, while M.J. Rosenberg of Media Matters has responded gleefully to the article. (Also worth noting that Politico issued a correction noting — among a couple other errors — that the CAP staffer originally identified in the article as a realist does not actually identify himself as such.

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