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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

What is a debate when no one listens?

Published: November 6, 2009
Section: Editorials

W hen speaking to Hoot reporters last night, Justice Richard Goldstone was clear: while he found yesterday’s forum with former Israeli Ambassador Dore Gold about the United Nation’s fact-finding report on the 2008-2009 Gaza War to be a “healthy debate,” “no learning occurred.” In other words, Justice Goldstone and Ambassador Gold went into the debate knowing what the other would say, and neither budged from their beliefs.

What, then, was the purpose of the debate?

Before answering this question, it is relevant to discuss the silent demonstrators who chose to stand up in the middle of Gold’s remarks and display posters of protest, causing him to stop speaking and address them. These students entered the event with preconceived notions and chose to disrupt the event rather than allow Gold the dignity of speaking with the same attention afforded to Goldstone. While The Hoot certainly supports freedom of expression, this action was not the most productive means of achieving the students’ goals.

Like the speakers, these students did not seem to want to learn from those with opposing viewpoints, and instead only wanted to input their own perspectives.

What, then, was the purpose of the debate?

Again, before responding to this question, another thought: those in attendance last night chose to voice their support of either Goldstone or Gold by clapping loudly when the ‘right’ ideas were said or giving a standing ovation to their preferred speaker. There seemed no crossover between the two sides.

What, then, was the purpose of the debate?

Answering this question proves difficult, as sound bytes and emotions seemed to outweigh the search for ‘truth, even unto its innermost parts,’ which President Jehuda Reinharz urged at the beginning of the event.

The debate failed to produce truth, instead amounting to a match between two skilled politicians, each with a command of talking points and history.

Neither man stated how to find common ground, and neither offered to continue the debate in the future.

How could such an environment promote truthful outcomes?

Justice Goldstone and Ambassador Gold would do well to listen and learn from each other. Likewise, the protesters who chose to disrupt last night’s proceedings would do well to learn from the audience members who told them to sit down, and vice versa.

We can have an open debate about these issues, or we can stifle debate through adherence to partisanship.

While we realize it is improbable, we hope Justice Goldstone and Ambassador Gold will return to Brandeis to continue this debate and find common ground, rather than allow the last words stated on the stage last night to be the last chance the Brandeis community has to study the Gaza offensive of last January.

The purpose for a debate should be one of learning and open discussion, not a standoff between opposing viewpoints. If this forum was a war of words, one thing is certain—no one was listening.