‘Israel is Not Perfect’: How to Lose a Debate

Apartheid, military occupation and violence. 'Not perfect indeed.' (Tamar Fleishman, Palestine Chronicle)

Last night, I participated in a debate at the Cambridge Union on ‘This House Believes Israel is a Rogue State.’ Speaking alongside Ghada Karmi and Norman Finkelstein for the proposition, the motion was carried by 51 percent to 19 percent – with a 7 percent swing from the pre-debate vote.

The debating chamber was packed, and the atmosphere charged. At the end of the debate, cries of ‘Free, Free Palestine’ rang out. But my main takeaway from the proceedings was the sheer weakness of the opposition’s arguments – a microcosm of pro-Israel propaganda that simply no longer works.

In my opening speech, I pointed out that the issue was not about whether Israel is ‘perfect’, or makes ‘mistakes’. To concede that Israel is ‘not perfect’, as I suggested the opposition may do, is in fact no concession at all, and misses the point. The issue is whether Israel violates international law and human rights, and whether it does so systematically.

I also stressed that the debate was not about the record of other countries or actors, in the region or elsewhere. It was not about Iran or Syria, Hamas or ISIS, North Korea or Russia. The Cambridge debating chamber hosts debates about dozens of topics of international interest but last night, the subject was Israeli policy, and the question was plain – is Israel a rogue state?

Yet in the speech directly following mine, Vivian Wineman, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, opened up for the opposition by stating exactly what I had predicted just minutes before ..

– Read more: Israel is losing the debate – in more ways than one – Ben White, Middle East Monitor

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