The Blame Game

Phillip Kisubika (MS ’13), a journalism grad student, takes the stage of the Tsai Performance Center. “My personal belief is that pride is standing in the way of both sides of the issue. I believe it’s on Palestine to compromise and work with Israel if there’s ever going to be peace in the region,” he said.

Who is to blame for the lack of progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks? This was the question that occupied the Tsai Performance stage on Tuesday, November 15th, during this year’s The Great Debate.

According to the majority of the audience, the burden is on the Israelis.

After hearing both COM students and foreign policy experts dissect one of the world’s most divisive, contentious issues, the audience was instructed to get up from their seats and to align themselves with their team of choice: one that claimed that Palestinians were to blame, and the other that faulted the Israelis.

With the majority of those in attendance occupying one side of the room, the latter won the audience’s support.

Members of the winning faction included COM’s Justin Bourke (’13 MS); Hussein Ibish, PhD, Senior Research Fellow of the American Task Force on Palestine; and Geoffrey Aronson, Director of Research and Publications of the Foundation for Middle East Peace.

The opposing team was composed of COM’s Phillip Kisubika (’13 MS); Robert J. Lieber, Government and International Affairs Professor, Georgetown University; and Joshua Muravchik, PhD, Foreign Policy Institute Fellow of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

The well-attended event, entitled Israeli-Palestinian Peace: Who Stands in the Way?, was the 29th in a series of debates organized by the Boston University Department of Journalism. Patterned after the celebrated Cambridge and Oxford University Union Societies’ debates, the series aims to promote interaction between students and professionals, as well as to promote awareness of relevant issues.

“Tonight’s subject comes at a time of stalemate and recrimination in the midst of extraordinary political development in the Arab world. One can readily see a continued stalemate leading once again to Arab-Israeli war,” said Professor Zelnick, Chairman of the Department of Journalism and moderator of the event, during his opening remarks.

Professor Robert Zelnick, a former ABC news correspondent, has moderated the Great Debates since Spring 1999.

The debate not only provided the opportunity for experts to discuss possible solutions but also gave students the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of a highly complex global issue.

“I only had cursory knowledge on the subject. To hear scholars and experts speak about that issue from more an in-depth, and not such a radical ‘he said-she said’ type atmosphere, was really nice and made for a really educational and enjoyable experience,” said Kendall Salter (MS ’13), who attended the event for a journalism class.

The student debaters were no exception. A student of Professor Zelnick, Phillip Kusibika was skeptical at first about participating, having had only basic knowledge of the topic prior to the debate.

“I’m a sports guy. If you gave me six minutes to talk about the NFL today, I would have gone overtime. Talking about the Middle East is something that I knew virtually, compared to everyone else here, nothing about,” said Phillip Kusibika. “It’s definitely a subject I’ll follow more closely from here on. It’s something very important to know.”

“Life with Palestinians under occupation is defined by profound and deeply institutionalized inequality based on ethnicity,” said Justin Bourke (MS ’13), a first-semester Broadcast Journalism graduate student.

Kusibika’s opponent, Jason Bourke, was also intimidated by the subject matter but is now confident enough to bring it up in daily conversation. “It’s a great opportunity to challenge yourself. It puts you in a position—not only getting up on that stage—but having to prepare your arguments in the context of a professional debate, where there are very high standards. It’s something everyone should do.”


Here are some highlights from The Great Debate:

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