The Levy-Frum debate
The Economist magazine is performing a valuable public service this week, hosting an on-line debate between Daniel Levy of the New American Foundation and David Frum of the American Enterprise Institute. The motion they are debating is “This House Believes that Barack Obama’s America is now an Honest Broker between Israel and the Arabs.” Levy ...
The Economist magazine is performing a valuable public service this week, hosting an on-line debate between Daniel Levy of the New American Foundation and David Frum of the American Enterprise Institute. The motion they are debating is “This House Believes that Barack Obama’s America is now an Honest Broker between Israel and the Arabs.” Levy defends the motion; Frum opposes it. Consistent with their usual practice, the Economist also solicited outside commentary from a number of other experts — Henry Siegman, John Mearsheimer, Aaron David Miller, and James Zogby — who are adding their thoughts throughout the week.
The two opening statements and rebuttals by Levy and Frum are well-worth reading, as they nicely illuminate the divide over U.S. policy towards this issue. Defending the motion, Levy points out that the United States is still providing Israel with large amounts of material and diplomatic support, and takes the sensible view that the United States is a better friend to Israel when it uses its influence to get Israel to abandon policies (i.e., the settlements) that are harmful to U.S. and Israeli interests alike.
For his part, Frum claims that Obama is “tilted so far against Israel that even-handedness looks like up from down here.” He claims the real threat is Iran, and chides Obama for placing too much weight on the Holocaust as a justification for Israel’s existence and for ignoring the Jewish people’s millennial claim to the land. Tellingly, Frum never says whether he thinks Israel’s occupation is a bad thing or not, or whether he thinks a two-state solution would be desirable (though he seems to have his doubts). Indeed, Frum offers the bizarre claim that Israel’s settlements “are the consequences of Palestinian and Arab intransigence, not the cause.” He is in effect saying that Israel had no choice but to spend the past 41 years (two-thirds of its history) encouraging half of million people to colonize the lands seized in 1967, at a cost of billions of dollars and thousands of lives. (If Frum wants to know how and why this really happened, he should read Zertal and Eldar’s Lords of the Land, Gershom Gorenberg’s Accidental Empire or former IDF general Shlomo Gazit’s Trapped Fools).
The Levy-Frum debate really boils down to a simple question. On one side are those who believe that the continued attempt to hold onto “Greater Israel” poses the real existential threat to Israel’s existence, because Jews will eventually be a minority in the lands they control and they will be forced to create a full-fledged apartheid state in order to preserve Israel’s Jewish character. Such fears are amplified by the growing influence of orthodox and ultra-Orthodox groups in Israel, by the signs that younger, more secular Israelis are living abroad in larger numbers, and by the overtly racist policies advocated by politicians like current Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. On the other side are those who either actively favor a “greater Israel” or who don’t think the occupation poses a serious long-term problem. The former group wants the United States to use its power and influence to push both sides to a viable two-state solution before it is too late; the latter group wants the US to use its power and influence primarily against other states in the region and to maintain a “special relationship” that is defined as unconditional and uncritical support for just about anything Israel wants to do. The two groups see different threats, and therefore favor radically different American policies.
But don’t take my word for it. Just read the exchange, and learn.
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Stephen M. Walt is a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University. Twitter: @stephenwalt
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