Holding And Conducting Debates
"Point scoring is a method of communication that prioritizes making certain points favourable to the speaker, and attacking opponents of the speaker by trying to undermine their positions. Point scoring communication ought to give the appearance of rational debate, whilst avoiding genuine discussion. The aim of Israel activist point scorer is to try to make as many comments that are positive about Israel as possible, while attacking certain Palestinian positions, and attempting to cultivate a dignified appearance" p. 18 in Hasbara Handbook: Promoting Israel on Campus, Published and Produced by the World Union of Jewish Students, 2002 wujs.org.il, publication sponsored by the education department of the Jewish Agency for Israel. Promoting Israel on Campus": http://www.middle- east-info.org/take/wujshasbara.pdf
Experience shows that private discussion with some open-minded individuals who hold different views from human rights advocates can be productive. Sometimes private meetings become a waste of time if the human rights advocate is arguing with racists and closed-minded people. A public debate in this case is preferable. When sides are represented and the human rights advocates do their homework well, they always win the audience. Debating someone successfully is not innate but a skill that must be learned and honed with careful observation, experience and preparation.
It is important to have visuals (pictures, maps etc. displayed). In radio debates, having quotes and sources readily available is useful. The presentation should be serious, factual, and scholarly. Afterall, truth is the best weapon in fighting for human rights. However, it is important not to get too depressing or emotional. In fact humor is a great way to connect with the audience. In these issues, there are plenty of opportunities for highlighting the often incredible ironies they represent in ways that engage the audience. Use familiar analogies liberally (e.g. compare and contrast South African with Israeli Apartheid policies). Every colonial movement sets up a racist system of legal discrimination. Sometimes analogies can be drawn from areas with which your audience is well familiar with (e.g. a speech to an African American audience can draw on common issues of civil rights and discrimination). Review some of the material in this book and in other books for resources. Use these strengths (especially our support of human rights and universal principles) in contrast with the weakness of the other side (e.g., emphasize Zionist terrorism and the facts of history as told from live witness accounts). Remain calm and collected at all times. If asked about something with which you are not familiar, simply state your ignorance of the topic and move on. Do not try to improvise or make-up answers that are based on “guesstimates” or poor information. Unfortunately, mistakes can and will be used against you. It is better to ensure that you speak about a few aspects of the issue with which you are very familiar, than to speak superficially or erroneously about many aspects of that issue. It is most important to be respectful in dealing with an opponent even when he or she may be known to be guilty of despicable actions (e.g., war criminals, military leaders with blood on their hands, or corrupt politicians). Some opponents may even deliberately try to provoke an emotional/behavioral reaction from you. This tactic is used sometimes by Zionists to reinforce the cultivated stereotype that Arabs are "naturally" over-emotional people who often get violent.
Finally, if you have supporters present in the audience, they should also be made aware of certain pitfalls. The pitfall of emotionalism and anger can be provoked by a mean-spirited speaker (e.g. a Zionist once stated in a debate that Arabs are violent people and Islam teaches them hate). Another pitfall is that a sympathetic audience member may think that he or she needs to demonstrate support or loyalty to the cause by challenging the other side. This merely provides an opportunity for your opponent to speak more, thereby actually decreasing the time for the human rights speaker. Since the audience is generally asked not to make statements but to ask simple questions, it is a far better approach to ask a question of the speaker whose view you share. This gives your point of view more emphasis and more time to be expressed. Unfortunately, this is a very difficult concept to grasp among activists who, despite good intentions, are often tempted to try to ask the “opponent” to explain his or her view. Experience tells us that this usually doesn't work to one's advantage.
An illustrative example of a dual interview/debate between Hanan Ashrawi and Yossi Olmert with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is found at http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/s342766.htm . Notice that Ashrawi was quick to point out inaccuracies and incorrect information given by Olmert (e.g. about her condemnation of terrorism, about the assassinated people all being in Arafat's jails etc).