A European debating tournament changed its constitution on Monday to prohibit discrimination based on nationality, after Israeli participants were boycotted by a team from Qatar in an episode condemned by organizers.
The amendment was proposed by Israeli debaters after two students from Qatar University — Mazen Nashat Mohamed Abdelfattah and Abdelrahman Elsayed — refused to face participants from Israeli universities at the European Universities Debating Championship (EUDC) 2018 in Serbia, which took place from July 31 through August 5.
The Israeli delegation — made up of several teams each from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, Haifa University, Technion, IDC Herzliya, and Open University of Israel — was repeatedly rebuffed by the Qatari team, which called Israel an “apartheid state” and said it did not want to legitimize the country.
When first facing an Israeli team during round three of the nine-part competition, the Qatari team tried to avoid debating the Israeli team, but was warned by officials that doing so would make it ineligible to participate in the rest of the competition. They decided instead to use “their 7 minutes to make a statement condemning Israel instead of engaging with the debate,” the competition’s Equity Team explained in a subsequent report.
As this behavior was considered to be “too disruptive to the rest of the teams in the round,” it was determined that swing speakers would replace the Qatari team in future rounds where they objected to the identities of their opponents. Yet this decision was deemed insufficient by some participants, who noted that the swing team changed the balance of strengths in the room, and that the Qatari team’s behavior was causing unnecessary delays to the debates.
Ultimately, Noam Dahan and Tom Manor of Tel Aviv University — who last year won the “English as a Second Language” category — this time rose to the top of the category meant for native English speakers, beating out competitors from Oxford University and the London School of Economics.
Amichay Even-Chen and Ido Kotler, another team from Tel Aviv University, also won in the “English as a Second Language” category.
In a report on the competition, the Equity Team later determined said it faced several obstacles in determining the appropriate response to the boycott, namely the lack of precedent and lack of direction in the constitution.
Yet it clarified that throughout the competition, “the position of the Equity team has been that such behavior is unacceptable and discriminatory towards Israeli speakers.”
“We considered the behavior of the Qatar team to be the same as if debaters were refusing to speak in rooms with someone because of any other immutable characteristic, such as: race, gender, or sexual orientation,” it wrote.
It called for the constitution to be adopted to address this deficiency — a proposal the Israeli team advanced during an August 4 EUDC Council meeting, right before the grand finals.
While the Qatari team defended its behavior, according to meeting minutes, the Israeli team said that a debater should not be subject to discrimination based on their nationality. Dismissing arguments that the move was an objection against Israeli universities, as opposed to Israelis in general, it noted that participants from Israel cannot freely choose where they live or study, and can not be expected to attend foreign universities.
While an informal vote on the matter resulted in a draw, a subsequent council meeting held on Monday saw the adoption of an amendment to include a pledge in future EUDC applications to “engage and debate with all other teams in the tournament regardless of any unelected identity characteristics (including but not limited to: gender, ethnicity, nationality).”
Violation of the agreement would result in “immediate barring and removal from the tournament,” according to the amendment, which received unanimous support — including from Qatar.