Cambridge debate on Israel is undermined by wily neocon (is that redundant?)

Israel/Palestine
on 13 Comments

An interesting PR battle over Israel in England is related by a friend:

Cambridge University’s Union Society held a debate last week with the motion “This House Believes that Israel is a Rogue State.” Because of the public relations stakes, the Israeli embassy actually dispatched two men to argue Israel’s side in the debate.

But bizarrely, the team of 3 arguing for the motion included, alongside Tony Blair’s sister-in-law, a neoconservative student who used his time to argue in defense of Israel. The student in question, Gabriel Latner, said that he had volunteered in the Israeli army, and he had lately interned with the hardcore neo-con think tank, Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

The debate worked out for Latner: the motion was defeated, 57 to 43 percent.

Some days later, the debate was reported on Ynet as “an important PR achievement in what could be considered one of Europe’s main anti-Israeli strongholds.” Ynet continued: 


Due to the preeminence of the hosting institution, the Israeli embassy in London decided to send representatives Ran Gidor, the embassy’s political advisor and a Cambridge graduate, and Shiraz Maher, a former radical Islamist that has become an enthusiastic Israel supporter.

The opposing side was represented by journalist and publicist Lauren Booth, the sister-in-law of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair….

The event took a sharp turn when a few students from the pro-Palestinian camp raised pro-Israeli arguments during the discussion. One of them told the audience that Israel gives political asylum to Darfuri refugees, while Egypt shoots them as they try to infiltrate the border, and that the Jewish State initiates internal probes over international violation, also noting Israel’s liberal policies vis-à-vis gay and lesbian rights. The student then pointed at Gidor and said, “Could you imagine China, Iran or even Britain sending a top diplomat to a discussion that defines Israel as a rogue state?”…

Israel’s Ambassador to London Ron Prosor said … that Israel will continue to dispatch representatives to any event that attempts to tarnish Israel’s reputation.

The PR victory claim is echoed by the Cambridge University Israel Society: “Unsurprisingly, much of the debate focused on Israel being an exceptional state. Israel’s commitment to political democracy and judicial accountability were frequently highlighted.”

Questions: Who arranged for Latner to speak for those proposing the motion? Did the Cambridge Union debating society compromise its impartiality by allowing itself to be used?

13 Responses

  1. potsherd
    October 27, 2010, 9:17 am

    Question: who voted?

  2. Oscar
    October 27, 2010, 10:28 am

    Potsherd, that’s a very important question. The YNET article suggests that there were “thousands” in attendance. Did the embassy pack the audience with neo-cons to manipulate the final outcome. (They learned from the NYU debate they lost last summer.)

    • potsherd
      October 27, 2010, 11:40 am

      This was exactly my thought.

      Because if minds are open to the truth, then it doesn’t matter how many servants of the lie are speaking.

  3. annie
    October 27, 2010, 12:36 pm

    @ the first link, right there on cambridge’s site it states

    Gabriel Latner is a second-year lawyer at Peterhouse who once interned with the neo-conservative Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

    it seems only fair the pro israel team should include at least one anarchist against the wall! ;)

    joseph dana perhaps?

    • lysias
      October 27, 2010, 4:06 pm

      Does “second-year lawyer” mean “second-year law student”?

      • annie
        October 27, 2010, 8:07 pm

        no idea lysias

  4. MHughes976
    October 27, 2010, 2:23 pm

    Those who attend the debating societies are a rather arbitrary, self-selected group of people at our elite universities. Considering that the motion was very provocatively framed and that it would have attracted a huge response from certain people who go under names like ‘academic friends of Israel’ I would have thought that getting a 43% vote would indicate that the debate in UK universities is fairly wide open.
    Support for the motion would, if things are like what they were in my time, have been led by organisations like the Socialist Workers Party, which is ubiquitous but small, very divisive and liable to repel – a force of repulsion I used to experience quite a lot – those who think themselves moderate.

    • potsherd
      October 27, 2010, 3:45 pm

      Being able to attend such debates and being able to vote are not the same thing.

  5. Shingo
    October 27, 2010, 2:38 pm

    So representatives from a “pro Palestinian group” makes the argument that Egypt shoots refugees in the back, while somehow omitting that Israel routinely does this to Palestinians, not to mention dropping white phsphorous on them?

    Yeah right.

    This was a text book case of the tactics promoted by the Reut Institute 
    – infiltrating anti Israeli groups and destroying them from the inside.

  6. Shingo
    October 27, 2010, 2:43 pm

    “Unsurprisingly, much of the debate focused on Israel being an exceptional state. Israel’s commitment to political democracy and judicial accountability were frequently highlighted.”

    That’s incredible. On these very topics alone, Iarael’s case should have been decimated.

  7. justicewillprevail
    October 27, 2010, 3:42 pm

    Ynet is merely demonstrating its ignorance of the UK and of these kind of debates. The fact that it is trumpeting the result as somehow indicative of opinion in the UK confirms it, although it does show how desperate they are to fabricate favourable opinion. These debates are of miniscule importance, and the fact that they engineered a neocon Israeli on the pro-motion side merely highlights the lengths that they will go to in order to rig results. That move makes a joke of the result anyway, and I wouldn’t read a thing into it, except that the motion itself indicates how people are framing Israel as a political force in the region. I don’t think you would find many people disagreeing with it, as it is a widespread perception of Israel – it is always associated with extreme violence in the news, perpetrated by itself and is obviously destabilising not just the region but the world. So it is not surprising that Israel and rogue state are linked in an unremarkable motion. That they have to send stooges and delegates who have no connection to the university tells you more about the rogue state, and its hopeless attempt to stem the tide of public opinion. Inconvenient facts are a terrible nuisance to the hasbara, however much money they throw at it.

    • MRW
      October 29, 2010, 12:43 pm

      the fact that they engineered a neocon Israeli on the pro-motion side merely highlights the lengths that they will go to in order to rig results.

      Best advertisement yet for academic boycotts of Israel. This will have repercussions within that world, silent but deadly ones.

  8. thankgodimatheist
    October 27, 2010, 6:26 pm

    Oh, but that’s an old trick..Infitrate the opposition and pretend to speak in its favor..Who’s a “better” defender of the Palestinians’ rights than a neo-con and a zionist?!!
    Look..this is the art of deceit taken to unprecedented heights..When it comes to zionists nothing should come as a surprise..

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