Universitas 2013 04 17
Axel Geard Nygaard
Having present the Israeli ambassador, Naim Araidi, and Jan Egeland should vouch for last Wednesday’s debate at Chateau Neuf being this spring’s large event. Israeli debates, however, tends to be controversial.
“We wanted to examine the Israeli self-image. Therefore, we invited the Israeli ambassador to explain how Israel looks upon herself”, says Hanne Linn Skogsvang. She was one of the coordinators of the debate “The war on perspectives-exploring the self-image of Israel”, together with Jørn Kløvfjell Mjelva. Mjelva holds the opinion Israel is mainly discussed in the context of Palestine. However, Israel is also a country with relations to the surrounding world and it’s neighboring countries, We wished to elevate this perspective. It was a point to us not to make an Israel-Palestine debate out of this.
“As such, it was almost a social experiment”, Skogsvang adds.
Did you feel this format led to a successful debate?
“It is hard to achieve a good debate on Israel”, Skogsvang says.
She tells of a very contradictory atmosphere within the hall. We experienced a lack of will to relate to the title of the event. People showed up, having the idea the Palestine conflict was to be the main theme”, she says. Among the public, many were not necessarily students.
“It was obvious this event had surfaced on the radar of some pro-Israeli groups; and that those had mobilized people to be present at the debate”, Mjelva says.
Skogsvang hold the opinion it is made a statement about the Israeli self-image when it is not possible to discuss the policy of the country without touching upon Palestine and the settlements.
“When the Israeli ambassador talks of Israel, he represents all of the country. It is interesting to observe how diplomacy is limiting in this way; though it is frustrating on a debate scene”, she says.
Mjelva, the moderator of the debate, agrees upon the debate being polarized.
“I must admit to being disappointed over there being so little interest in really listening to the other side before arriving with counter-arguments. On both sides, both on stage and in the hall” he says.
Elements of Circus.
In hindsight, this debate has been characterized as a “circus”. Why this criticism?
“I have experienced far more circuslike debates on other occasions. The discourse onstage was quiet and restrained. OK, there were some comments from the hall and people shouting during this event; applauding reflexively after ‘their’ debater. I have been seeing this as creating something of a ‘circus element’. However, we cannot put a stranglehold on this type of reactions by the audience. Instead, we should think over why the audience has this reaction”, Mjelva says.
Skogsvang tells of receiving feedback by both parties over how the debated tended (to be skewed) in either direction.
“It says something of how we have managed to convey how polarized this debate is”, she says.