Israel – Palestine debate at Birmingham University, 24 November 2011

10 Responses to “Israel – Palestine debate at Birmingham University, 24 November 2011”

  1. Mark53 Says:

    An interesting debate, well moderated and very informative re the real disparity between the 2 sides. Both parties are consistent in their approach to the conflict. It’s also revealing as to the real reason why the conflict is not about to be solved tomorrow. Whereas the pro Israeli panel was constantly pointing in the direction of a more realistic practical approach to the solution the pro-Palestinian panel seemed bent on wading through specifics. This was best characterised by the comparative approach to the Apartheid question. The pro-Palestinian panel alighted on the subject with enthusiasm as opposed to the pro Israeli panel who refused to let it cloud the issue. Ben White refused to leave off accusations and specifics, mostly inaccurate whereas David Hirsch quite fairly showed how fault could be found on both sides and how a solution could be found by utilising and mobilising the more positive sides of both peoples. The bottom line, in my opinion: the Palestinian faction would well to listen to what Hirsh, Johnson and Moses have to say and try and lose self-styled “helpers’ and “supporters” such as the other panel.
    Pity about the constant coughing though

  2. Israelinurse Says:

    Whilst I have much respect for all those who stepped up to the plate on the pro-Israel side, I was left asking myself what was the point of this debate. Is it really constructive to have a group of British people debating another group of British people on a subject which, with all honesty, is no more than an intellectual exercise for them?
    Some of the opinions expressed – eg on the subject of the division of Jerusalem – do not represent current mainstream Israeli opinion. It is a pity that they should be presented as such, especially as any potential peace agreement will be put to a referendum.

    • Lynne T Says:

      As ridiculous as it seems, Israelinurse, the Ben Whites of the world are the opinion formers who ultimately influence government policies, such as peace initiatives, funding the PA, censuring Israel or supporting Israel when the situation warrants a military response, etc.

      What’s frustrating here is that the PSC, because they have an agenda based on a very simplistic view of the conflict, are able to attract some very dedicated followers who appear to outnumber the David Hirshes. That, of course, has a lot to do with a public broadcaster that is pretty biased and a similarly disposed element in higher education.

  3. Sarah AB Says:

    I didn’t watch the whole debate, but I had a different sense of responses to the Apartheid question. Alan Johnson chose to speak at some length on the topic himself. It seems an easy enough point to argue against. Israelinurse – I take your point but, particularly in a university context, anti-Israel voices are often heard, and have an impact on for example the UCU, so it seems good to counter these, particularly in the context of a direct debate.

  4. Israelinurse Says:

    Sarah – believe me; I know all about anti-Israeli voices (and worse) in UK universities having spent a rather unpleasant time in one myself as well as having had some of my children study there.

    Part of the trouble with resolving the conflict is that it has become a proxy war for a lot of foreign people apparently in need of a hobby. People such as White and Corbyn are far more extremist and uncompromising than any Palestinian I have ever met in the Middle East and to a certain degree it is the backwind of foreign dabbling which is breathing more life than is justified into the conflict. I’m therefore not sure that giving these people the legitimacy of a polite debate is a positive move.

    One aspect which was very much missing in the above debate was the regional one. The conflict is not Palestinian – Israeli, but Arab – Israeli and the current turmoil all across the Middle East & North Africa is the number one reason why there will be no progress in the peace process for quite some time to come.

  5. zkharya Says:

    Mike Indian’s take on the debate

    ‘The rapid radicalisation had begun when a pro-Palestinian audience member challenged the panel on whether or not Israel was “an apartheid state”. The Chair chose to disallow the question, leading to considerable dissent amongst onlookers.

    Did Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn commit the most egregious damage to the evening’s proceedings in his decision to engage with the question? It may have played well with the room, but it sent a fault line through the rest of the conservation. Mr Corbyn was only speaking up for his admirable passions, but his assessment set a precedent for following speaker Dr Victor Kattan to focus on this issue at the expense of another. Consequently, a moderate questioner took exception and left the room.

    From there the respective sides entrenched themselves. The pro-Palestinian panellists fell back onto a steady barrage of grim statistics and damning anecdotes. Their pro-Israeli counterparts dug in behind a defensive line, tarnished by the actions of the state they represented and unable to raise their points above the parapet into the line of fire of reason.

    Contextualisation of this debate is as important as its contents. Was it an academic or a political? Panellist David Hirsch felt strongest about the former, appealing for spectators to move beyond the Arab-Israeli divide, even within the room. The stony faces of his opponents at the far end of the long table spoke of snapping this olive branch before grasping it.’

    Ben White’s

    The whole debate can be watched on YouTube, but one of the talking points of the evening came when, barely half an hour in, an audience member asked the panel if Israel is an apartheid state. The chair’s unexpected reply was that this was not a subject that could be discussed: “I’ve been told I can’t have that as a question”, she stressed (watch here). Inevitably, all the panellists then proceeded to address the issue – Victor Kattan said he’d refer to “A”.

    What the audience didn’t know is that in the run up to the event, members of the Jewish Society had pressured the Debating Society to prohibit my book ‘Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide’ from being available for purchase. Despite the fact that J-Soc was free to make available any of their own literature without restriction, J-Soc students threatened to withdraw their official association with the event, if I brought along copies of my book to sell. Eventually, they backed down when the Debating Society refused to concede the point.

    But that’s not all. Further crucial context is the adoption by the Birmingham student union in 2010 of the notoriously politicised and discredited ‘EUMC working definition of antisemitism’…

    In fact, earlier this year, the Universities and College Union (UCU) voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion that criticised the way in which the working definition “is being used to silence debate about Israel and Palestine on campus”.

    Thus after the J-Soc attempts to prevent the sale of my book, the debate organisers were understandably anxious about encouraging a question on apartheid that could see them accused of racism, according to an interpretation of the student union policy.

    …What transpired on Thursday not only showed the extent to which groups will go to stifle discussion of Israel’s crimes, but also how such efforts can so often spectacularly backfire.

  6. Comment is not free Says:

    So JSoc requested (as opposed to ‘pressured’) the debating society not to have White’s screed available.
    The request was turned down (the ‘pressure’ wasn’t quite the ‘pressure’ White imagines).
    White then links this request not to have available for sale his book (a request that was turned down) to the UCU’s abandonment of the working definition on the grounds that ‘it is being used to silence debate about Israel and Palestine on campus”.
    And, he makes all these links and connections about JSoc’s attempt to ‘silence debate about Israel and Palestine on campus’ in the context of a ‘debate about Israel and Palestine on campus’.
    He then links this ‘pressure’ (which was not pressure at all) to ‘silencing debate’ (a debate that was not silenced) to the Chair’s disallowance of a question concerning apartheid via an assumption without any shred of evidence whatsoever merely stating that the debate organisers were ‘understandably anxious’.

    However, if White’s assumption about the question is correct, then, the pro-Israeli speakers would not have been permitted a platform at the university since, I assume, that it has a ‘no platform’ policy for racists which, of course, is the point of argument for White’s (and others) Israel = apartheid argument.

    Consequently, the only person seeking to ‘silence debate about Israel and Palestine in campus’ is Ben White

  7. Absolute Observer Says:

    Ben White claims he wants to talk about Israel.
    But in fact his piece is an attack of British Jews (Birmingham JSoc) and the power that they apparently exercise on British campuses to pressure and to silence and against whom UCU is taking such a principled stance!
    But then again, this is not surprising for a man who can understand why people become antisemites.

  8. Scanner Says:

    Finally got a chance to listen to the whole debate.

    As David Hirsch says several times during the debate and Mark53 states above, “Whereas the pro Israeli panel was constantly pointing in the direction of a more realistic practical approach to the solution the pro-Palestinian panel seemed bent on wading through specifics..

    The image that came to mind is that of someone throwing a “spike-belt” into the road (of peace). While the pro-Israel debaters were trying to deal with the who and why of the spike-belt placement, the pro-Palestinian side appeared to only want to deal with each spike — one at a time.

    Two questions: 1. Why, after all these years, is no one asking what it is that the Palestinians and their supporters have actually contributed to reaching a peaceful settlement of the dispute? and 2. What are the values held by Israel and its supporters that have led to their peace proposals compared with the values held by the Palestinians and their supporters that have led to their rejection of all the peace proposals made to date?

  9. Lev Bronstein Says:

    I only watched the first two videos but my impression was that the ‘pro Israeli’ side were perhaps only as pro Israeli as they were allowed to be, they appeared very moderate by comparison with the ‘Pro-Palestinian’ side who came across as militant and actually more Anti-Zionist rather than especially pro-Palestinian. They never waste an opportunity to blame Israel for the conflict.
    The argument that America acts as Israel’s lawyer and isn’t an honest broker for peace, is an interesting observation but a similar argument could be made against the pro-Palestinian bias of the UN. Ron Proser’s speech at the UN last month highlighted this and the general hypocrisy of the those who claim solidarity with the Palestinians whilst ignoring their ill treatment by Hamas as well as in the neighbouring Arab countries. Sadly that kind of ‘pro-Israeli’ advocacy is too often slated in a knee jerk reaction as propoganda.

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