By Maisie Marston
Cardiff University Debating Society has faced criticism after hosting a “discussion” with Israeli ambassador, Michael Freeman. The event was advertised as a “question and answer styled discussion”, comprised of both “structured long form questions” and open questioning.
Freeman has been the Counsellor for Civil Society Affairs at the Embassy of Israel in London since July 2016. Soon after he was announced to be the ‘High Profile Middle Eastern Guest Speaker’, both students and members of the public raised their concerns on the event’s Facebook page.
One comment described the event as ‘aggravating’, saying there had been “little care” taken to “balance out this debate”. Others criticised the Debating Society for not hosting a high profile Palestinian representative in a similar event. In response to these criticisms, the Cardiff University Debating Society issued an online statement saying; “we think that it is important to encourage debate on campus and engagement with views that do not always correspond with your own”, adding that they “do not have the resources to host an event of that kind or of that magnitude” with regards to calls for a opposing speaker.
The conflict between Israel and Palestine has recently escalated further due to an anti-Hamas Israeli special forces operation inside Gaza.
Since last Monday, over 460 rockets have been fired into Israel by militants, which were responded to by Israeli aircraft strikes firing at 160 militant targets. This comes amidst the UN and Egypt’s efforts to broker a truce on the Gaza border.
There have been accusations levelled at the Israeli military who have been said to have used excessive force against protesters. In response, the military have said they only opened fire in self-defence and to prevent people infiltrating the border to potentially carry out attacks.
On the night, Cardiff-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign organised a protest outside the event. Jeff Hurford, the organiser of the protest, said; “…this is entirely a sham. A debating society invites one person to come along, gives them a few questions, and then of course there is a debate which is obviously absurd. But in a way we’re used to that kind of manipulation. But what is just unbelievable is that we are treating as though they were just normal people, normal politicians, somebody who is going to defend a regime that is killing people every week”.
Among guests and protestors, there were also several Cardiff University security officers stood near the protest and at the door of the John Percival building. As a precaution, attendees were sent the location a few hours before and doors were promptly closed 10 minutes into the debate.
Aliraza Manji, a Cardiff student and occasional Gair Rhydd contributor who attended the debate agreed that the debate was structured in a question-answer format, but remarked that: “The style of debate, in my view, did favour the speaker as a conversational approach was not followed, we were held to a strict Question and Answer without room to argue back which kept the ball in his court, not ours”.
He added “The speaker himself, Michael Freeman, brought up in the UK, studied in the UK, was a well-spoken person, embracing the student questions with an open attitude, although on occasion, he would avoid questions which he found too challenging… It was noticeable that throughout the event he was very defensive when people questioned Israel’s actions in Gaza and would deny openly available information”.
Freeman closed the discussion by saying that he was “positive about the future” and that he believed “people want to live positively. Palestinians and Israelis want good things for their children”.