I understand why the police moved me along.

Last week I was waiting in a long line for entry to Combatants for Peace’s joint Israeli-Palestinian memorial service while, behind a barricade and a cluster of uniforms, some guys stood silently holding an Israeli flag. They seemed to be protesting the event. I went over to chat to them, to see if they had an argument persuasive enough to convince me to leave.

Screams

Before they got the chance, the police instructed me to keep walking. I asked if I could speak to those beyond the barricade. No dice.

It makes sense for the police to limit interaction between protesters and protest-ees to avoid the chance of violence. But the outcome was that the small group, to deliver their message over distance, started yelling that Hitler would be proud of us (the attendees of the ceremony).

I’m not sure of the statistics, but I imagine not many people in line saw the validity of their (compelling and articulate) argument, changed their mind, and went home.

Silence

A few friends of mine have experienced shock and confusion when I revealed that I didn’t vote for the Jewish Home party in the recent Israeli elections. As if that vote were as straightforward and necessary as breathing, and I had casually opted out.

One mentioned, in a friendly conversation, “I know you’re 100% wrong, but there are no words that I can find to explain why.”

I do know the statistics of this approach; 100% of that argument made 0% of me change my mind.

The Question

My experience of clashing ideas in Israel falls into these two categories; incoherent (and simultaneous) screaming, and the silence of non-engagement. Both demonstrate that opposition means division. That disagreement makes the ‘other’ a threat. But that’s not the case in Australia. What can we learn from them?

For one thing, is there a forum for examination of ideas like there is down under? What is the context for conversation? Can we be unified nationally while disagreeing politically (in a public and open space)? Does Israel have a QandA? Do we have an Intelligence Squared?

My Current Response

To build a culture of opposition without division, of engagement without enragement (extra cheese anyone?) with an actual shot at changing minds, I’m arguing for all schools to take part in regular inter-school debates. That’s right. Debating.

School debating teaches people, from a young age:

1. The ability to listen calmly to ideas they find disagreeable or offensive

2. The skill to articulate arguments convincingly

3. The necessity of viewing opponents as partners

So mix the teams, have students argue for ideals that conflict with their own, televise the best and brightest, give credit to university students who adjudicate / teach, do it bilingually, do it often, do it throughout high school. However it’s done, let’s shift the context of disagreement in Israel away from protests and pursed lips.

Let’s make it productive. Let’s make it fun.

I’ll volunteer my time to adjudicate, who else is keen?

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