A note by Ted Honderich

The Oxford Union debate on 24 January 2008 was on the motion "This house believes that the state of Israel has a right to exist".

That motion was obviously was obviously vague and ambiguous -- and thus had both that obvious shortcoming and also the recommendation of allowing speakers to address all the main issues.

In effect the supporters of the motion could speak either for the right to exist of the original state of Israel in roughly its 1948 extent and nature, what can be called the Zionist state, or for the post-1967 state of Israel, the neo-Zionist state, which seeks to take the last fifth of historic Palestine from its indigenous people or at least to deprive them of their liberty in it. Or, of course, the supporters of the motion could leave the motion vague and ambiguous.

The same comments apply to the opponents of the motion. They could be against the Zionist state, or the neo-Zionist state, or leave the matter unclear.

I was saddened by the want of clarity of the debate, and in particular, naturally, by the want of clarity by the initial undergraduate speaker on our side. In fact I eventually got very annoyed by her rush of mere debater's stuff and her endless attempts to interrupt. She could be taken as supporting the neo-Zionist state of Israel. I suppose that this was the main effect of what she had to say. Being annoyed to be identified with that barbarism, and inane comments on its behalf, I crossed the floor.

By good luck, however, when it came to the voting at the end, I went through the door supporting the motion. That is what I would have chosen as the better of two bad options.

It has to be added that I was cured forever of any temptation to take part ever again in any undergraduate debating society's consideration of a serious subject. The experience of such a debate at University College Cork a while ago and the experience in Oxford, which was worse than my previous one there with Gerry Adams and others on the subject of Ireland and terrorism, persuades me that undergraduate debating should be left as a relaxation of adolescents. Babble-rhetoric. Very dismal it is.

Honderich's speech on the motion
An article from Cherwell on the debate
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