What a Liberal Think Tank Should Ask Bibi When He Visits Next Week

The Center for American Progress should use its controversial decision to host the Israeli prime minister to confront his core beliefs.

Peter Beinart
Peter Beinart
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the 37th World Zionist Congress, October 20, 2015.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the 37th World Zionist Congress, October 20, 2015.Credit: AFP
Peter Beinart
Peter Beinart

When he comes to Washington next week, Benjamin Netanyahu will do something unusual. He’ll sit for an interview at the Center for American Progress (CAP), a liberal think tank whose worldview is radically different than his. Some American liberals think that given the way Netanyahu has treated the Obama administration, and the Palestinians who live under his control, CAP shouldn’t let him in the door.

But letting him in the door could do some good, if CAP President Neera Tanden, who is conducting the interview, uses it to help Americans understand what Netanyahu really believes. Here are a few questions she might want to consider.

Netanyahu has a long history of statements about Arabs that border on racist. In his 2000 book, A Durable Peace, he heaps praise on a British colonel who served in the Middle East during World War I named Richard Meinertzhagen. Netanyahu quotes Meinertzhagen as declaring that Arabs “do not know the meaning of gratitude” and are “adept at looting, sabotage and murder.” He quotes Winston Churchill, another hero, as saying that, “Left to themselves, the Arabs of Palestine would not in a thousand years have taken steps toward the irrigation and electrification of Palestine.” Netanyahu himself writes “violence is ubiquitous in the political life of all the Arab countries” and scolds Israelis for believing “that the Arabs loathed war as much as they themselves did.”

Question: Do you believe that Arabs are culturally inferior to Jews? If so, do you believe that the millions of Israeli Jews who themselves hail from Arab lands are culturally inferior too?

In A Durable Peace, Netanyahu calls Israeli control of the West Bank — where Palestinians live as non-citizens without free movement under military law — “a liberal policy aimed at radically improving the lives of the Arabs.” By contrast, in the film the Gatekeepers, Avraham Shalom, who ran the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, says that in the West Bank, Israel acts as “a brutal occupation force.” Former Shin Bet head Carmi Gillon says, “We are making the lives of millions unbearable.” Former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin says that, in the West Bank, Israel is a “colonial regime.”

Question: Why is your view of Israeli policy in the West Bank so much more benign than the men who administered it on the ground?

In a speech in 2010, Netanyahu called the Iranian regime a “new Amalek, who is making an appearance on the stage of history and once again threatening to destroy the Jews.” In his speech to Congress earlier this year, Bibi compared Iran to Haman, Amalek’s heir who according to the Book of Esther tried to destroy the Jews of Persia. According to the Hebrew Bible, Jews are required to utterly wipe out Amalek’s descendants. As the Prophet Samuel instructs King Saul, “Spare no one, but kill alike men and women, infants and sucklings, oxen and sheep, camels and asses!”

Question: If an Iranian leader spoke this way about Israel, wouldn’t you accuse him of incitement to genocide?

After first meeting Netanyahu as President, according to Dennis Ross, Bill Clinton called him "nearly insufferable" and noted that, "He thinks he is the superpower and we are here to do what he requires." In 2001, Netanyahu was caught on tape telling settlers, that, “America is something that can be easily swayed.”

Question: What exactly did you mean by that?

Benjamin Netanyahu claims he still supports a Palestinian state, despite having campaigned against one this spring. But it’s hard to find a Palestinian, an American or even an Israeli who has worked closely with him who believes him. In his book, The Missing Peace, Ross writes that, “Neither President Clinton nor Secretary Albright believed that Bibi had any real interest in pursuing peace.” Diskin, who served as Netanyahu’s Shin Bet director from 2009 to 2011 has said, that “this government is not interested in solving anything with the Palestinians, and I say this [with] certainty.”

The man Netanyahu appointed Defense Minister, Moshe Ya’alon said last year that, “It is time to free ourselves of the concept that everything leads to a framework that is called a state.” The woman Netanyahu named Deputy Foreign Minister, Tzipi Hotovely, declared earlier this year that, “This land is ours. All of it is ours.” The man Netanyahu named as his negotiator with the Palestinians, Silvan Shalom, said in 2012 that, “We [in Netanyahu’s Likud Party] are all against a Palestinian state, there is no question about it.”

Question: How gullible do you think we Americans are?

Not gullible enough, I hope, to let Bibi leave CAP without being confronted about what he really believes.

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