Israeli team brings home the gold for debating

For third-straight year, an Israeli team wins first prize at the World University Debating Championships.

January 4, 2012 19:37
2 minute read.
Debating champs Sella and Omer

SELLA AND OMER Nevo 311. (photo credit: Nevo brothers)


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In day-to-day life, the Israeli debating style typically consists of raising the volume of one’s voice to drown out your opponents and give them no choice but to listen to your monologue. When that fails, yell louder.

Nonetheless, brothers Omer, 26, and Sella Nevo, 22, won the World University Debating Championships for English as a second language on Tuesday, the third time that Israelis have won the title in the past three years.

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The Nevo brothers, who study at Tel Aviv University, join champions Meir Yarom and Michael Shapiro, who took home the title for the University of Haifa in 2011 in Botswana, and Yoni Cohen- Idov and Uri Merha of Tel Aviv University, who won the 2010 championship in Istanbul.

No other country has had students from its universities win the competition three years in a row.

While the Nevo brothers could not be reached in Manila, Philippines, by The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, Cohen-Idov, who now serves as the Tel Aviv University Student Union debate team coach, described how the natural Israeli penchant for arguing, a national pastime of sorts, is not necessarily an asset in debate competitions.

“People think, ‘Oh we’re Israelis; we have to win because we argue all the time.’ But really we win it in spite of this. Also, in spite of the stereotype, Israelis can be very good at listening and understanding people; they just have to learn how to do it.”

Cohen-Idov said that coaching Israelis in debate requires a lot of “toning down” language – for instance, teaching them to avoid saying things like “never” or “under no circumstances,” which can sound more extreme to European or American ears than they would in the streets of Tel Aviv or Migdal Ha’emek.

Cohen-Idov said Israeli debaters also have to learn that most non-Israeli of traits: subtlety.

“But it’s not that difficult; we’re not light-years behind and we’re quite well liked by the other teams.”

Cohen-Idov described the world of debating as one that appears to have been left untouched by anti-Israeli animosity, or calls to boycott or protest Israeli competitors.

He related experiences from past tournaments of making friends and hanging out with teams from Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia, and seeing Turkish fans in Istanbul waving an Israeli flag and cheering them on.

“After the debates, we can have beers with one another and can be wonderful ambassadors of Israel. I don’t know any other competitive fields like that,” Cohen-Idov said.

When asked if he’d ever seen any calls for boycotts or felt any hostility, he said, “Not by a long shot.”

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