Exeposé Comment’s Debate Correspondent Fiona Potigny reviews Debating Society‘s debate concerning Israel’s desire for peace.
We did it, Exeter. As DebSoc President Scott Pepé so proudly announced, Exeter has triumphed at that which Durham, Oxford, and Cambridge have all failed: holding a successful debate on one of the most dividing issues of our time: Israel. With the motion “This House Believes that Israel pursues a policy of peace in the Middle East”, naturally spectator numbers were high, nearing that of the Thatcher debate – or, rather, the infamous Katie Hopkins debate – prompting a return to Newman A.
Votes of conscience reflected little trust in the motion with the bulk of voters split between “against” and “abstain”. First speaker for the proposition, Professor Alan Johnson, Editor of Fathom and Senior Research Fellow of BICOM certainly had a challenge on his hands.
Apparently attempting the Guinness World Record for facts per minute, Professor Johnson launched his defensive mission citing Israel’s “repeated efforts to divide the land” such as in 1937 and 1947, and its territorial concessions to Jordan amongst other relevant facts as examples of its pursuit of peace.
Though the motion was not specifically geared towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the issue would clearly be unavoidable this evening and thus Johnson was quick to lay out his support for the Two State Solution. This, he stated, would allow both sides to exercise their right to self-determination, which should in turn end the strife of “both [of] Europe’s victims in this tragic history”. Nonetheless, despite his pace, his argument was at least clear and well-supported, though perhaps curtailing his history lesson would have left more time to provide a stronger conclusion.
Assuring the audience that she “[did] not envy the proposition’s position”, Dr Gharda Karmi emanated confidence from the outset, continuing that the audience “should not have difficulty” in voting against what she branded the proposition’s “propaganda”. The doctor, academic and author then swiftly embarked upon her assault of Israel, reducing the country to a territory of “war, instability, divisiveness and occupation”.
Taking us on a more negative journey through Israeli history via the Suez and Six-Day wars, 1981 bombings of Iraq, and the invasions of Lebanon and Bombay, Dr Karmi made a convincing effort to deconstruct the pacifist image that Professor Johnson had presented. She became increasingly impassioned as she noted Israel’s possession of nuclear and chemical weaponry and daily discrimination against non-Jews, most particularly so when describing the untried child prisoners, which climaxed in her fist-on-table conclusion that the Two State Solution would be impossible. “If it were”, she argued, “why doesn’t it already exist?”
James Clappison MP, Parliamentary Chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel, was soon to instigate a blame game, accusing the opp of not only contesting Israel’s right to be a state (this was later clarified as untrue), but also of having presented a “complete re-writing of history”. The true history, he claimed, was that of an Israel entitled to its own defence from Palestinian hostility, who launched rockets from Gaza and built the West Bank Barrier as a result of attacks such as the Yom Kippur War. Clappison also added that, in its pursuit of peace, Israel only engaged Iraq in the hope of destroying their WMD’s, whilst the West did this regardless. Emphasising that we must “embrace” the Two State Solution, he ended that “a vote for the opposition is a vote against peace”.
Picking up on this final quip, Dr Nadia Nasser, Research Fellow of the Arab and Islamic Studies Institute defined this “peace” as one of “separation and subjugation”. Dr Nasser built a robust argument on the strong foundations laid by Dr Karmi by recounting her own personal experiences of communities torn apart by sieges and control.
As she spoke about the restrictions she now faces in travelling to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem – sites she had enjoyed visiting pre-Oslo Accords – and the road blocks and diversions caused by the dividing wall hindering her from visiting her Aunt who was previously just 5 minutes away, Dr Nasser shattered the television screen with which we conveniently distance ourselves and allowed the gravity of the situation to become strikingly real. It is for this reason, that she is this week’s Best Speaker.
Questions saw a good deal of audience opinion shine through, which, though interesting, did have to be quelled by chair Ellie Binks, who politely reminded us that questions must be kept short – indeed some did prove a good challenge in figuring out what exactly was being asked. Some of the more understandable – though by no means less probing – questions addressed the issues of arms exportation, the utility of war, America’s role in Israeli-Palestinian debate, and whether a One State solution would ever be possible.
While the general consensus was that America’s attempt to be an “honest broker” in the proceedings would ultimately hamper and taint the process, naturally, mention of a one state solution brought with it a hefty hand of tension. Dr Karmi was adamant that both peoples are peaceable enough to live under a single democratic rule, which was supplemented by Dr Nasser’s assertion that with the number of illegal settlements scattered across Palestinian land, the map is now far too complicated for the land to be divided. Clappison disputed this, comparing the situation with that of Ireland, followed by Professor Johnson who humorously interjected that “a couple at each other’s throats do not get married”.
This was not enough to convince the audience, however, and the opposition won with a good share of the votes.
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