Engagement versus protest: why a change in tactics would benefit everyone.

Mike Hiatt flickr israel lel

Lee Marsden
Writer

While I was President of the Model UN society, I was accused of promoting the genocide of the Palestinian people, for doing the same thing that GUES and the Dialectic Society did last week – we dared to host a debate with Israel having a voice.

The complaints about our Israel-Palestine debate came from the University’s Palestine Society. For a full week prior to our debate we were bombarded with messages accusing us of everything from supporting war crimes, to whitewashing the Israeli government, to being a participant in genocide, to condoning the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian people.

Demands were soon made that Model UN explicitly come out as ‘pro-Palestine.’ We responded that, as a debating platform Model UN does not take sides; we are completely neutral. The response to this was phenomenal and we were then accused of supporting ethnic cleansing.

However, despite receiving support from all the students in order to ensure that our debate was in no way offensive, inappropriate, or biased to either side in the Israeli-Palestine conflict, PalSoc remained completely dogmatic in their opposition to the debate. At this point I agreed to meet with two of their representatives to discuss the problems. I brought along a copy of the debate plans, including detailed information of what topics of discussion the debate would be focused on and how we would deal with discipline for individuals who espoused racist views. However, the two representatives refused to look at any of this information. To this date, no one in the Palestine Society knows what they were protesting against, other than the inclusion of Israel. Attempts to convey this information were ignored and refused.

At the meeting the two PalSoc representatives offered me four choices: firstly, we could cancel our debate; secondly, we could host the debate, but remove Israel; thirdly, we could replace the debate with an “educational workshop, hosted by PalSoc to teach Model UN’s members the plight of the Palestinian people” or finally, we could host a debate on ‘Why the UN is ineffective.’

These options were, in our mind, unacceptable and we politely declined. However, after we did so, there were several calls and threats for protest at our event. We eventually decided to shelve the Israel-Palestine debate and host a new one about the Preah-Vihear Temple instead. In doing so, the opportunity for members of Model UN to research and debate the complex issues of Israel and Palestine was lost.

Last week two more societies became victim to anti-Israeli hysteria. The GUES and the Dialectic Society both attempted to host question and answer sessions with an Israeli spokesman for the embassy in London, Yiftah Curiel, only for the events to be disrupted and ultimately called off due to protests.

Now, I am not arguing that someone does not have the right to protest. However, rather than immediately jumping to protest every time you do not get your way, or you get a slight whiff or something you do not like, how about you participate? How about you come along to debates and Q&A sessions? PalSoc cannot seriously believe that shutting down debate and stoking tensions between university societies is a good way to promote your arguments.

I would argue instead that it might be more effective to participate, and come along to these debates in order to make your voices heard! Spend time doing research, come up with a killer question, fire that at the speaker. Make them sweat as they try to answer it. Grill the speaker with the questions you want answered. If they fail to answer the audience will see this and understand your arguments. This is far more effective than simply trying to stop and event from taking place.

And after the debate is over why not sit down with the other side and talk things out? Look for the weak points in both of your arguments, pinpoint the logical fallacies, and factual inaccuracies. Make both your arguments stronger and try to understand each others stance and fears. As Northern Ireland and South Africa show, some of the greatest successes of peace come from listening to the other side, bringing them together, making concessions and eventually building trust. This is the long and difficult path to peace.

Ultimately, there is a reason why no country has ever been kicked out of the United Nations. Even Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq which was guilty of gassing Kurdish people and attacking neighbouring states was not kicked out.  This is because as long as we have them in the United Nations, we have them at the negotiating table. And while they are there we can extract concessions, we can engage in dialogue, and we can begin the path to peace. By attempting to forbid Israel, or any country, to speak is going to do absolutely nothing to help   you achieve your goals.

Palestine deserves better representation at the University of Glasgow. It deserves so much more than dogmatic ideologues. It deserves more than a group pursuing a twisted utopia were no Israeli official should ever speak at any of our institutions, and no voice should ever be given to Israel in any debate. The benefits of changing tactics from protesting to engaging in debate and discussion will ensure everyone wins. Meanwhile,  the University will continue to be recognised as a place where ideas can be freely exchanged and debated on their own individual merits. Societies will win as there is less conflict between them. If the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN is truly the correct course of action to take, as I believe it is, then it will thrive against the arguments posed by Israeli officials. And maybe then there will be an easing of the tension between the sides.