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Doha Debates Make U.S. Debut in Gaston Hall

April 6, 2009 – Known for tackling issues affecting the world -- and particularly the Middle East -- the Doha Debates made its U.S. debut this month at Georgetown.

The debates, a free-speech forum based in the Middle East and televised on BBC World News eight times a year, allows students attending colleges and universities within Qatar’s Education City to hear leading experts debate about current issues. The March 25 debate at Georgetown aired on BBC World News on April 4 and 5.

Members of the Georgetown community, including 10 students from the School of Foreign Service-Qatar campus, filled Gaston Hall to listen to intelligence expert Michael Scheuer, politician Avraham Burg, former diplomat Dore Gold and legal scholar Alan Dershowitz argue their points about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“After the latest violence between Palestinians and Israelis, it’s important to debate how the U.S. will apply its considerable pressure in the region,” said Tim Sebastian, award-winning journalist and former host of BBC’s “Hard Talk.”

Based on a centuries-old format refined by the Oxford Union -- Oxford University’s prestigious debating society, the Doha Debates focus on a single controversial motion with two speakers for and against. Once they outline their arguments, each speaker is questioned by the moderator and the discussion is then opened up to the audience for argument and a final electronic vote.

The motion being argued -- Is it time for the U.S. administration to get tough on Israel? -- drew both criticism and support.

Arguing for the motion, Scheuer, founder and former head of the CIA’s Bin Laden tracking unit, suggested the present U.S.-Israel relationship undermined national security. And Burg, a former speaker of the Israeli Knesset and a senior member of the Labour Party, said Bush administration policies achieved nothing but a stalemate in the region.

Ambassador to the United Nations from 1997 to 1999, Gold opposed the motion insisting that it was “myopic” to pressure Israel, which he views as not the problem, to change its policies. “It is a nuclear Iran, it isn’t Israel,” he said.

Also siding with Gold, Harvard Law School professor Dershowitz said any notion of “getting tougher” on Israel would merely send the wrong signal to Israel’s enemies and cause even greater bloodshed in the Middle East. Support for the motion “(This) will cause war, not peace,” he said.

Once the four outlined their arguments, the floor opened for questions from the students, and the audience electronically voted on the topic – 63 to 37 percent in favor of the motion to “get tough on Israel.”

“The Doha Debates is a program built for informing and empowering students with outstanding debaters on both sides of the issue,” said James Reardon-Anderson, dean of the School of Foreign Service-Qatar. “The School of Foreign Service in Qatar was delighted to bring the Doha Debates to the Georgetown University Main Campus.”

Related Links

  • School of Foreign Service-Qatar

  • The Doha Debates

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