Beliefs Institutions Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion Politics

Terror is not debatable

Credit: QConcept, via Shutterstock
Credit: QConcept, via Shutterstock

Credit: QConcept, via Shutterstock

Many of the older students in my religious school are heavily involved with debate. It is a very popular academic pursuit here in south Florida.

But, here is a topic that they would not have expected.

It happened at the U.S. Universities Debating Championship in Atlanta last weekend.

Here was the debate proposition:  “This House Believes that Palestinian Violence Against Israeli Civilians Is Justified.

Since the viewpoints were assigned, this means that half of the participants were essentially forced to argue in favor of committing terror attacks against Israeli civilians.

Feeling nauseous yet?

This is what Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the CEO of the ADL , had to say about this:

It is outrageous and deeply offensive that students participating in the debating championship, some of whom were Jewish, were essentially forced to choose between losing points in the national championship or advocating for violence against Israeli civilians. While the Israeli-Palestinian conflict provides plenty of issues that may be worthy of debate, asking students to argue in defense of terrorism against civilians is insensitive and abhorrent. It says enough that some students started crying during their presentations because they were so deeply unsettled for having to advocate in favor of terrorism and violence.

ADL called on the United States Universities Debate Association, which organized the event, to publicly apologize for this incident.

Try to get your mind around this, if you can.

Imagine the following debate topics:

  • “This house believes that police violence against black people Is justified, provided that the police officers in question feel personally intimidated.”
  • “This house believes that violence against LGBT people is justified, provided that the assailant feels his own masculinity has been challenged or threatened.”
  • “This house believes that violence against immigrants is justified, provided that the assailant believes that such immigrants are going to take American jobs.”

Right. You can’t imagine those debate topics. They are distasteful, regressive, and beyond offensive.

I agree.

So, why is it permissible to create an intellectual argument in favor of violence against Israeli civilians? Is this the ultimate outcome of moral and cultural relativism — that we are not capable of judging the violent acts that (certain) people commit?

Or, as I used to tell my students: “Your mind should never be so open that everything falls out.”


Consider this: violence against Jews is the only kind of violence that is even open for debate. In other words, it is imaginable. And as such, it shows how deep the scourge of anti-Semitism is in our society.

It is time to scream that truth, and to scream it loudly.


About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.


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  • Sickening, but not surprising. For people like Louis Farrakhan, Leonard Jeffries and many other black radicals, bludgeoning the Jewish community every now and then is sport. Entertainment. It’s actually quite sad to see how obsessed with hurting the Jewish people this part of the black community really is. I only wish more Jews would find the guts to expose and challenge the antisemitism that is so widespread in this part of the black community.

  • I don’t know much about debate competitions, but I would think that this is a rather poor proposition because those assigned to defend it are at a distinct disadvantage.
    Perhaps we see the problem with identifying certain propositions as too horrible to debate in that I don’t think the first of your three example propositions is all that outrageous. If by “feel” you mean “have good reason to think” and by “personally intimidated” you mean “physically endangered” and by “black people” you mean “people,” then this is not an outrageous proposition.

  • Unless one can debate all sides of an issue, one can not fully understand it; unless one understands all sides of an issue, one is not prepared to deal creatively to right the wrongs involved. When our hearts are one with the Devine we have the strength to look into the face of evil and not be terrorized. When our hearts are not one with the Divine we react to evil by doing more evil.