Ironic idiocy

By Stephen Pollard
May 2, 2007

I'm afraid I don't have a link for this, but I have just been sent a press release on a debate held last night at the Oxford Union:


Oxford, UK: 2nd May a“ A series of heated exchanges marked the arrival of the Doha Debates at the Oxford Union last night, where two-thirds of the student audience approved a motion claiming that Israel's supporters are stifling western debate.

This was the first time that the Doha Debates, a unique forum for free speech in the Arab world, have held an event outside Qatar.

The debate, hosted by award winning broadcaster Tim Sebastian, took place amid mounting controversy over the role of the pro-Israel lobby in the United States and accusations that it has suppressed criticism of Israel a“ a charge that the lobby vigorously denies.

Norman Finkelstein, a leading academic critic of Israeli policies, argued in favour of the motion claiming that the Pro-Israel lobby sows confusion to avoid being held to account: "they claim that the conflict is so complicated that it would require rocket science to penetrate its mysteries." Finkelstein maintained that the American people are ignorant of solutions to the conflict that have been available for 30 years due to the "misinformation, disinformation, and sheer fraud which masquerades as scholarship that is validated by mainstream media." The journalist and writer Andrew Cockburn supported this view, claiming there are "red lines" in discussing Israel that no politician or journalist in the US would dare cross for fear of being demonised or driven out of public life.

Dr Martin Indyk, former US Ambassador to Israel, and Director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, argued strongly against the motion, saying that last night's event in Oxford was proof of a lively debate on the subject. He said controversy over a recent book by former US president Jimmy Carter a“ branded anti-Semitic in some quarters a“ was further evidence that criticism of Israel was not being stifled.

His fellow panellist David Aaronovitch, the journalist and broadcaster, dismissed accusations of conspiracy around the lobby, insisting that Americans naturally identified with Israel, a country surrounded by autocracies, because of their belief in democracy: "It wasn't the Israeli lobby that made Egypt, Jordan, or Syria dictatorships," he said. He added that what may be true in the US is not the case in Europe where there is no such movement to sow confusion or stifle debate: "But if debate is stifled it isn't coming from the pro-Israeli lobby as some Danish cartoonists found out to their cost."

The debate will be broadcast on BBC World on Saturday 5th May and on Sunday 6th May.

Do you think any of the '66%' (and I'm deeply suspicious of any vote which has such a neat figure as two thirds) who believe that the pro-Israeli lobby stifles debate has spotted the irony in recording their vote in the Doha Debates, described as "a unique forum for free speech in the Arab world". That's free speech - in which people can debate issues such as, oh, Israel, Hezbollah and anything else they choose to discuss - being "unique" to the Doha Debates as in not existing elsewhere. Debate is oh-so-free in the Arab world, in Iran, and in the Palestinian Authority, isn't it?


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