Saban Center for Middle East Policy
The Saban Center for Middle East Policy is a research organization established at the Brookings Institution in 2002 through the donation of $13 million by the Israeli media-mogul, Haim Saban. Its current director is Kenneth M. Pollack. Pollack took over from Martin Indyk, who founded the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an AIPAC think-tank.
- When they met in New York about a week later, Indyk recalled, “Haim said, ‘I’ve made all this money; I’m giving ten million to the D.N.C., and I want to set up a think tank. I think we really have to resolve the Arab-Israel conflict. These terrorists give me a potch in the panim, but I still think it’s important for Israel’s future to achieve peace.’ ” Indyk advised him to make a donation to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, but Saban said, “ ‘You don’t understand. I want my own.’ ”
At this time Indyk was working at WINEP but joined Saban's think-tank after Saban made an initial contribution of 13 million dollars for its establishment.
Saban informed a New York Times reporter about his own views about how the conflict in Israel-Palestine would be resolved in 2004: "I'm going to make a very controversial statement and I hope to God that I am proven totally wrong: I think that any resolution will have to go both on the Palestinian side and Israeli side to some form of civil war. It's not going to be without spilling blood." These views did not stop Saban from creating his "own" think tank in 2002. He explained: 'I want my own [think tank].’
According to prominent scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, the Saban Center harbors undeniable pro-Israel biases:
- It is hard to imagine that a research institute funded by Saban and directed by Indyk is going to be anything but pro-Israel. To be sure, the Saban Centre occasionally hosts Arab scholars and exhibits some diversity of opinion. Saban Center fellows – like Indyk himself – often endorse the idea of a two-state settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. But Saban Center publications never question US support for Israel and rarely, if ever, offer significant criticism of key Israeli policies. Moreover, individuals who stray from the Center’s line do not remain for long, as former NSC official Flynt Leverett’s brief tenure there illustrates.
Moreover, the Brookings Institution's work on the Middle East has degraded since it was transferred to the Saban Center:
- Take the Brookings Institution. For many years, its senior expert on the Middle East was William B. Quandt, a former National Security Council official with a well-deserved reputation for even-handedness. Today, Brookings’s coverage is conducted through the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, which is financed by Haim Saban, an Israeli-American businessman and ardent Zionist. The centre’s director is the ubiquitous Martin Indyk. What was once a non-partisan policy institute is now part of the pro-Israel chorus."
The center's "pro-Israel proclivities" take place at the annual Saban Forum which brings together US and Israeli leaders and analysts for a two-day conference which is held in Washington or Jerusalem. Marketed as an event aimed at "strengthening bilateral ties between the two countries [Israel and the US]," forum debates are closed to the public.
Saban Forum 2009
Taking place at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on November 14-16, the 2009 forum was titled "The U.S.-Israel Partnership: Can New Governments Overcome Old Challenges" and according to the Saban Center's website, was focused on addressing issues which the current US and Israeli administrations do not "see eye-to-eye on," including how to end the conflict in Palestine-Israel and Iran’s nuclear program. The event program can be downloaded here.
(All forum proceedings that were made available to the public can be found here.)
The Forum was conducted using the "Chatham House Rule" which conceals the identity and affiliation of speakers.
Event chairman Haim Saban provided opening introductions for the most high-profile participants: Bill Clinton, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Ehud Olmert. In a "Letter from the Chairman" Saban attempted to portray Israeli interests as equal to US interests and mentioned a rift between the current US and Israeli administrations that he hoped could be resolved with "dialogue" resulting from the event.
The event was focused on Israel-Palestine issues, with participants traveling to Ramallah for a meeting with Palestinian National Authority Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, and Israel's issues with the Syrian negotiations, Iran, and Israel's relationship with the United States
(The Saban Forum's official summary of the "Assessing Progress with Iran" event can be found here.)
While Iran was discussed in nearly all the forum events, the specific Iran-focused discussion (titled "Assessing Progress with Iran") was led by US neoconservative hawks, Kenneth M. Pollack and Joseph Lieberman, and James Steinberg (an advocate of the Bush Doctrine), Likud Party member, Dan Meridor, and Netanyahu's national security advisor, Uzi Arad.
From the Saban Forum-authored summary (the only information about this discussion that was made available to the public), the bulk of the discussion was focused on how Israel and the US should respond to Iran's nuclear program. While the "military option" was kept on the table, stronger sanctions (and those aimed at Iran's refined oil imports) were a point of focus. The Green Movement in Iran was discussed in relation to whether support of this opposition movement would support Israeli interests. While it was acknowledged that the US and Israel's interests aren't the same with Iran:
- For instance, the point was made that while Israel would be more threatened by an Iranian nuclear weapon than the United States, the United States would be more threatened by an Iranian response to a military strike—U.S. objectives in Afghanistan and Iraq are intensely vulnerable to Iranian retaliation.
the session allegedly ended with participants discussing the importance of how to get the public opinion of their respective populations to favor "strong policy toward Iran."
Due to the use of the Chatham House rule (which conceals the identities and affiliations of speakers), the majority of the Saban Forum 2009 discussions were only made available to the public in the form of summaries authored by Saban Center staff.
Moderator: Samuel Berger, Chair, Albright Stonebridge Group
With Stanley Fischer, Governor, Bank of Israel
Moderator: Nahum Barnea, Political Columnist, Yedioth Ahronoth
Keynote remarks at the Saban Forum 2009 Gala Dinner by the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu
- A Conversation with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger: The Fight for Alternative Energy Sources » (PDF)
Moderator: Shai Agassi, CEO, Better Place Speaker: Rep. Henry Waxman (D-California)
Moderator: Kenneth M. Pollack, Director, Saban Center at Brookings Participants: James Steinberg, Deputy Secretary of State Dan Meridor, Deputy Prime Minister Uzi Arad, National Security Advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut)
Moderator: Itamar Rabinovich, Bronfman Distinguished Fellow, Saban Center at Brookings Participants: Gen. Amos Yadlin, Israel Defense Forces Frederic C. Hof, Office of the Special Envoy for Middle East Peace
Moderator: Bruce Riedel, Senior Fellow, Saban Center at Brookings Participants: Yuval Diskin, Director, Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) Rep. Jane Harman (D-California) Daniel Shapiro, National Security Council
Prominent US & Other Participants
(A full list of participants can be found here.)
- Howard Berman - United States House of Representatives (CA-28); Chairman, House Committee on Foreign Affairs
- Daniel Byman - Senior Fellow, Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings; Director, Center for Peace and Security Studies, Georgetown University
- Paul Cejas - Chief Executive Officer, PLC Investments Inc.
- Adam Chesnoff - President and Chief Operating Officer, Saban Capital Group
- Bill Clinton - 42nd President of the United States; Founder, William J. Clinton Foundation
- Eliot Cohen - Robert E. Osgood Professor of Strategic Studies, Founding Director of Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University
- James B. Cunningham - U.S. Ambassador to Israel
- Susan Davis - United States House of Representatives (CA-53); Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Military Personnel
- Michael Eisner - Former Chairman & CEO The Walt Disney Company and Founder, The Tornante Company, LLC
- Franklin Foer - Editor, The New Republic
- Lindsey Graham - United States Senate (SC)
- David Hale - Deputy Special Envoy for Middle East Peace; former U.S. Ambassador to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
- Jane Harman - United States House of Representatives (CA-36); Chairwoman, House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment
- Sidney Harman - Founder and Chairman Emeritus, Harman International; Judge Robert Widney Professor, University of Southern California; and former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce
- Frederic C. Hof - Special Coordinator for Regional Affairs, Office of the Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, U.S. Department of State
- David Ignatius - Columnist, The Washington Post
- Martin Indyk - Convener of the Saban Forum; Vice President and Director of Foreign Policy at Brookings; Founding Director, Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings; and former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs
- Ted Kaufman - United States Senate (DE); Member, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
- Zalmay Khalilzad - President and CEO, Khalilzad Associates LLC; Counselor, CSIS; former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Iraq, and Afghanistan
- Joseph Lieberman - United States Senate (CT); Chairman, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
- Nita Lowey - United States House of Representatives (NY-18); Chairwoman, House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations
- Kenneth Pollack - Director, Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings; former Director of Persian Gulf Affairs and Near East and South Asian Affairs, National Security Council
- Bruce Riedel - Senior Fellow, Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings; former Senior Director for Near East and South Asia, National Security Council.
- Carla Robbins - Deputy Editorial Page Editor, The New York Times
- Dennis Ross - Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for the Central Region, National Security Council
- Haim Saban - Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Saban Capital Group; Chairman, International Advisory Board, Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings
- Arnold Schwarzenegger - Governor, State of California
- Daniel Shapiro - Senior Director of Middle East and North Africa, National Security Council
- James Steinberg - Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott President, The Brookings Institution; former Deputy Secretary of State
- Anwar Sadat - Professor for Peace and Development, University of Maryland
- Henry Waxman - United States House of Representatives (CA-30); Chairman, House Committee on Energy and Commerce
- Leon Wieseltier - Literary Editor, The New Republic
Prominent Israeli Participants
(A full list of participants can be found here.)
- Uzi Arad - National Security Advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; Head of the National Security Council in the Office of the Prime Minister
- Ehud Barak - Minister of Defense; former Prime Minister of the State of Israel
- Ron Dermer - Senior Advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
- Yuval Diskin - Director, Israel Security Agency (Shabak)
- Stanley Fischer - Governor, Bank of Israel; former First Deputy Managing Director, the International Monetary Fund; former Professor of Economics, MIT
- Amos Gilad - Head of Diplomatic-Security Bureau, Ministry of Defense
- Dan Gillerman - Former Ambassador to the United Nations
- Michael Herzog - Chief of Staff to Minister of Defense Ehud Barak
- Avigdor Lieberman - Deputy Prime Minister; Minister of Foreign Affairs
- Tzipi Livni - of the Opposition and Head of the Kadima Party
- Benjamin Netanyahu - Prime Minister of the State of Israel; Chairman of the Likud Party
- Ehud Olmer - Former Prime Minister of the State of Israel
- Uri Sagie - Former Head of Directorate of Military Intelligence, Israel Defense Forces
- Ari Shavit - Senior Correspondent, Ha’aretz
- Amos Yadlin - Chief of Defense Intelligence, Israel Defense Forces
- Shlomo Yanai - President and Chief Executive Officer, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd; former Director, Strategic Planning Division, IDF
- Kenneth Pollack - Director (2009-present)
- Martin Indyk - Senior Fellow, former director (2002-09)
- Haim Saban - Founder
- Hady Amr - Director, Brookings Doha Center
- Anouar Boukhars - Visiting Fellow, Foreign Policy, Brookings Doha Center, Saban Center for Middle East Policy
- Daniel Byman - Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Saban Center for Middle East Policy
- Khaled Elgindy - Visiting Fellow, Foreign Policy, Saban Center for Middle East Policy
- Stephen R. Grand - Director, U.S. Relations with the Islamic World
- Shadi Hamid - Director of Research, Brookings Doha Center
- Kristin M. Lord - Nonresident Fellow, Foreign Policy, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, U.S. Relations with the Islamic World
- Mirette F. Mabrouk - Nonresident Fellow, Foreign Policy, Saban Center for Middle East Policy
- Suzanne Maloney - Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Saban Center for Middle East Policy
- Kenneth M. Pollack - Director, Saban Center for Middle East Policy
- Bruce Riedel - Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Saban Center for Middle East Policy
- Cynthia P. Schneider - Nonresident Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Saban Center for Middle East Policy
- Salman Shaikh - Nonresident Fellow, Foreign Policy, Brookings Doha Center, Saban Center for Middle East Policy
- Shibley Telhami - Nonresident Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Saban Center for Middle East Policy
- Vaughan Turekian - Nonresident Fellow, Foreign Policy, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, U.S. Relations with the Islamic World
- Mohammad Waseem - Ford Foundation Visiting Fellow
- Website: http://www.brookings.edu/saban.aspx
- E-mail: SabanCenter@brookings.edu
- Phone: 202.797.6462
- Andrew Ross Sorkin, "Schlepping to Moguldom", New York Times, 5 September 2004
- Connie Bruck, "The Influencer", New Yorker, 10 May 2010
- John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, (Penguin 2007) p. 177
- John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, (Penguin 2007) p. 176
- Zvi Zinger, "Bill Clinton, Schwarzenegger to attend Saban Forum in Israel", YNet, 13 November 2009
- Brookings, Saban Forum 2009, Saban Center Website, accessed on 21 September 2010
- Brookings Institution, Saban 2009 Proceedings, Saban Forum 2009, accessed on 22 September 2010
- Saban Forum 2009, "Assessing Progress with Iran, Saban Center for Middle East Policy Website, accessed on 22 September 2010