The Economist Debate – Closing Statements

David Frum and I posted our closing statements on The Economist’s website this morning. So far, the the daily polls have been quite consistent, with about sixty percent affirming that “This house believes that Barack Obama’s America is now an honest broker between Israel and the Arabs,” and forty percent voting against the motion.  

Since Frum and I posted our opening statements on Tuesday, July 21, the debate has been augmented by articles from some great guest authors: Henry Siegman (president of the US/Middle East project), John Mearsheimer (the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, and coauthor of The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy), James Zogby (founder and president of the Arab American Institute), Michael Singh (the Ira Weiner fellow at The Washington Institute and former senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council), and Aaron David Miller (author of The Much Too Promised Land and public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington D.C.)

Once again, I encourage everyone to both follow along with the debate and vote. Below is an excerpt from my closing statement:

Assuming then that Obama’s America, while maintaining and respecting the America-Israel special relationship, wants to play an honest broker role, a key question arises in this debate and elsewhere: are such efforts doomed to failure by American domestic politics, traditionally heavily favouring uncritical pro-Israel positions? I would argue not. A popular American president, who is determined, and can articulate how a particular Middle East policy serves American national security interests, while explaining how that policy also helps Israel (even if the Israeli government of the day disagrees), will eventually carry the day.

Yes, lobbies play an important role in American politics, and the Israel issue is not immune to that—far from it. But even the best-funded lobbies don’t win every time. And, the so-called Israel lobby is neither homogenous nor omnipotent. There is also a changing environment. The American Jewish community is overwhelmingly liberal and is now finding new vehicles to express nuanced and progressive positions that are supportive of Israel, but not “Greater Israel”. Notable are the successes already notched up by J Street, established fifteen months ago and active in online campaigning and political lobbying (full disclosure: I serve on J Street’s advisory board).

So, an honest broker role that acknowledges the specificity of the American context and retains the special relationship is politically possible. It is not, though, by any means politically cost-free.

Continue reading here.