Leaders at the Center for American Progress (CAP) are trying to manage internal uproar ahead of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the think tank tomorrow, according to Foreign Policy:
A simmering internal disagreement at the Center for American Progress over the think tank’s decision to host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week escalated into open dissent and in-fighting during an intense but civil all-staff meeting on Friday, according to two people with direct knowledge of the exchange.
The powerful liberal think tank — known in Washington simply as CAP — will host Netanyahu on Tuesday as a part of the Israeli leader’s closely-watched visit to the U.S. aimed at repairing ties between Jerusalem and Washington following the bruising debate over the Iran nuclear deal. Netanyahu met with President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday morning and will finish the day at an award dinner at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
A think tank is supposed to be a place for scholars and researchers to study and to learn about what is happening in the world in order to provide better analysis and advice to the general public and policymakers. Successfully pursuing that mission sometimes requires meetings with people with whom you disagree and of whom you disapprove. Some staffers at CAP, apparently, do not understand or appreciate this.
When I was at the Council on Foreign Relations, we had speakers ranging from the foreign minister of Yugoslavia (at a time when NATO warplanes were bombing his country) to Muammar Gaddafi and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. At other times, I’ve met with extremist settlers in the West Bank, Hamas and Hezbollah representatives, Yasser Arafat, Bibi, and many others. I’ve often found myself disagreeing with—and even offended by—what I hear, but I always come away with a much better understanding of how people in a world full of unsavory characters think.
Luckily, CAP’s leaders are standing up to internal and external pressure, and haven’t canceled their invitation. That is exactly as it should be, and the protesting staffers should understand that they are telling the world that they are not intellectually or emotionally ready for responsible positions in government. This is not an Israel question, or even a Netanyahu question, and meeting with an important world figure in no way conveys approbation of his policies. Rather, it implies curiosity about his policies and a desire to understand how a particular figure sees the world. This is as true of historical monsters like Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, and Mao as it is of controversial figures like Netanyahu.
Foreign policy think tanks are not “safe spaces” and the study of world affairs involves dealing with one trigger warning after another. This is no field for Special Snowflakes and moral poseurs—if you aren’t prepared to get your hands dirty, you need to find another field to work in. The real world is full of people whom Americans of various political beliefs and moral tendencies find repugnant. People who go into foreign affairs as a career must expect to spend a fair amount of their time studying with, associating with and, yes, being civil to people of whom they disapprove.
University administrators and professors should pay attention to stories like this. You are not doing your students a service if you encourage them in the illusion that you can be a Special Snowflake and have a meaningful career in international affairs. Learning to cope with the shock of the disagreeable and the offensive is part of the basic skill set people need in this field, and given that this seems a difficult lesson for young people to learn in the hothouse climate of American education today, schools who care about their students’ prospects in life need to think hard about helping those students acquire the mental toughness that the harsh world around us requires.