Intelligence Squared, the world-famous forum for debate, made its debut in
Israel at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on Tuesday, serving up the motion that if
the country continues on its current course, it cannot remain both a democratic
and Jewish state.
Attendees entering the venue gave a preliminary vote
for or against the motion, and were polled afterward to track the effect of the
Most of the audience walked in supporting the motion, at 44
percent, while 26% were against and 30% were undecided.
After the debate,
50% voted for, 37% against, and 13% remained undecided, showing that more people
were swayed to be against the motion.
Debating for the motion was Peter
Beinart, a senior political writer for The Daily Beast and an associate
professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New
York. Joining him was former social and Diaspora affairs minister Rabbi Michael
Melchior, who currently is the chief rabbi of Norway and a rabbi in
Debating against the motion was former ambassador Yoram
Ettinger, who was the minister for congressional affairs at Israel’s embassy in
Washington and a member of the American-Israel Demographic Research Group.
Former ambassador to the United Nations Dan Gillerman, current chairman of
Gillerman Global, also argued against the motion.
The event was organized
by Roxanne Horesh, a London native, who told The Jerusalem Post she wanted to
bring the culture of debate to Israel.
Each speaker was given 12 minutes,
followed by questions from the audience and concluding
Beinart, who clarified that he is not an Israeli citizen and
“is not here to preach from on high,” said a bi-national state “would mean civil
war” and that Israel is on its way to such a scenario by destroying any chance
for a Palestinian state.
He said that Israel’s Declaration of
Independence called for equality but that the situation in the West Bank is not
a democracy, because only the Jews living there have full rights, implying
apartheid. The situation, he said, “is not a democracy, it is an
While Jews can vote in Israeli elections and be tried in
civilian courts, Beinart said, Palestinians are tried in military courts which
have a higher conviction rate.
“We deserve a state of our own in our
land, but to keep Zionism alive we need to keep alive the possibility of a
Palestinian state,” he said.
Ettinger opened by noting the naiveté of
Westerners about the culture and religion of the Middle East. They do not
understand what it takes to survive as a minority in the Muslim-dominated
region, he said.
“Non-Muslim entities have been destroyed since Islam
came to the region in the 7th century, thus the importance of the mountain
ridges [in the West Bank] for defense,” he said.
He said the so-called
Arab Spring had turned into an Arab Winter and Israel would be suicidal to give
away its territory for an “agreement signed on ice.”
“There is not a
single Arab democracy,” he said, and we are being told if we give the
Palestinians a state and a chance, everything will be okay, he
He also mentioned the ongoing incitement against Jews and
Israel as a barrier to peace.
In the Middle East, “If you don’t eat from
the menu, you become part of the menu,” he said.
Ettinger continued that
the demographic debate, which many use to try to scare Israel into making
concessions based on false assumptions, shows that the Arab birthrate is
decreasing while the Jewish one is increasing.
The entire Middle East is
undergoing modernization and a decrease in birth rates, he said. The
Israeli-Arab birthrate has dropped substantially over the years and is around
3.5 births per woman, while the Jewish birthrate is at 3 births per
At the time of the first Zionists, he said, Jews only made up 9%
of the population of the entire Land of Israel, and in David Ben-Gurion’s time
it was 36%. Today, Jews make up 66% of the population in the area, including the
West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Melchior cited the importance of Israel
remaining loyal to Jewish values in retaining the character of the
Israel “had always accepted division plans and accepted
self-determination of the Arab people,” he continued.
Hillel’s dictum to treat others as you would like to be treated, Melchior said
the Palestinians have a right to their own state. Israel was losing its
international friends and was at risk of losing a Jewish country, he
Israel could “not be done [created] at the expense of another
people,” he said.
Gillerman attacked Beinart’s argument and said it was
“I thought I was at the UN, all those threats and recriminations
of Israel,” Gillerman said. Israel will “forever be a Jewish and democratic
“People wonder why I am on this side and not the other side,” he
continued, “I support the two-state solution,” but we cannot be scared into
making policy decisions.
Israel, since its inception, has always sought
peace, but you “need leadership on both sides,” he said.
The Post caught
up with Dani Dayan after the debate, who is the former Chairman of the Yesha
Council (2007-2013). He said it was completely neglected the fact that Beinart
and Melchior complained about things that were already done by former Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert, and the Palestinians rejected his proposals. So despite
the fact that they debated with skill, they were detached from reality, he