Debating Matters Israel: in the beginning…

In May 2015, the Debating Matters team brought 6 Israeli schools from a range of communities to Tel Aviv University’s Capsule Building to debate key moral, scientific and global issues in English. Using our unique ‘substance over style’ format for the first time in the region, students took tough questions from adult judges and from an audience of their peers.

An engaged audience at Debating Matters Israel’s 2015 Showcase. Photo: Oded Karni

Debating Matters format has given Israeli students the opportunity to convince others of their thoughts on important real-world issues: Whether animal experimentation can ever be justified? If space exploration is a waste of time and money? Are megacities bad for the developing world? And if online activism can rejuvenate politics?

Eager students from Kadima Mada and Ironi Hey raise their hands to quiz the debaters. Photo: Oded Karni

Unlike other competitions, students in our audience played a key part in the discussion holding each other to account about key debates in public life. In response, debaters relied on weeks of research, thinking and argument guided by Debating Matters’ comprehensive Topic Guides in order to respond intelligently. As a test of their understanding, knowledge and articulacy, Debating Matters proves not only that young people care about important subjects, but that they are capable of convincing others to make informed judgements about the world.

Throughout the day, debaters also took questions from distinguished panels of adult professionals including Professor Lord Bew; Charlotte Hallé, editor of Ha’aretz English Edition; Professor David Greenberg, Director of Community Mental Health at Herzog Hospital; Caron Sethill, National Library of Israel; Dr Ayelet Blecher-Prigat, Sha’arei Mishpat Law School; Dr Ann Swersky, founder of Siah V’Sig; and others.

HM Ambassador, Matthew Gould, meets some of our debaters at his residence where Debating Matters Israel was launched. Photo: Debating Matters

British Ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, supported the competition inviting participants and guests to his residence where he introduced the competition, saying:

Finding a way to engage on serious ideas is something incredibly important …. debating gives you something very special. In Israel, debating has a particular place as arguing is the national sport here!

Debating Matters Israel was organised by the Institute of Ideas and the Anglo-Israel Association and has been supported by the Wellcome Trust, Alan Miller and David Meller. Our venue partner, The Porter School of Environmental Sciences in The Capsule Building, Tel Aviv University, played host to a unique intellectual experience for all our students, guests and teachers on the day. Prizes for the day were also donated to our winning schools and Best Individual students by sports channel, ‘5 Sport’, and Ha’aretz.

The results

Debating pair, Or Katz (left) and Maayan Amid (right) hold the trophy for their team. Photo: Oded Karni

Starting the day with 6 school teams, by the final debate, only two schools — Ankori and Reali Haifa - remained to battle it out over Online Activism. After much debate and discussion on the impact and significance of the internet in public life, our final panel of judges awarded the day to our first Debating Matters Israel Champions……….. REALI HAIFA.

As engagement with the issues is equally important, prizes for our Best Individual students of the day were also awarded to those who made the most of their opportunity to ask questions from the audience. Congratulations go to:

Best Individual: Yonatan Sherman (Yachad Modi’in)

High Commended Individual: Harel Kol-namer (Makif Ramot)

Commended Individual: Mishael Lemberg (Ankori)

with Honourable Mentions for: Elisha Lemberg (Ankori) and Nikki (Ironi Hey) by Alan Miller; Iddo Gino (Reali Haifa) and Maayan Amid (Reali Haifa) by Amitai Gottlieb; Katie Lamb (Makif Ramot) and Or Yeminy (Makif Ramot) by Karen Dow; David Roiterstein (Ankori) and Tal Bat Shoshot by Ruth Saunders.

The word is out!

The initiative has been well received in the press and by Israel’s existing debating community.

The Jerusalem Post commissioned an op-ed piece on the importance of Debating Matters — available here — and in their write-up of the event Alon Cohen-Idov, CEO of the YCI Center for Debate and Rhetoric said:

“ … most significant is putting debate on the proper stage, giving it the respect it deserves. This happens when you bring very distinguished judges, when students really have to defend their arguments and eventually make this a very constructive and pleasant experience for the students.”

In the UK’s Jewish Chronicle, Kadima Mada student, Hedaya Shoman, enthused about debating and the confidence it gives her:

“I didn’t really know about debating when I got involved in this — but now I feel I’m ready to stand up in front of anyone,” she said.

Ha’aretz have also listed the event in their ‘Anglo File’ column.

Debating Matters Israel Resources for Schools to use in English and Civics classes. Photo: Oded Karni

Debating Matters Israel now have a range of resources Israeli High Schools can use in classes and their own school debate clubs.

More photos of the event and news about Debating Matters can be found on our Facebook Page HERE.

We look forward to returning for more Debating Matters Israel next year!