Hillel and Barkley Forum Debate Hamas

Photo Courtesy of Wonderland | Flickr

Last night, Emory Hillel and the Barkley Forum sponsored a debate on a controversial issue: the pros and cons of recognizing Hamas as a political actor on an international stage.

Emory Hillel is one of Emory’s multiple Jewish student organizations, and the Barkley Forum is Emory’s campus debate team.

College sophomores Brian Klarman and Ally Beyer argued against Hamas’ recognition, while College freshman Sahar Merchant and College sophomore Kentucky Morrow argued for the organization’s recognition. Held in White Hall, there were approximately 20-30 people who attended the event.

At the beginning of the event, a brief summary of the Arab-Israeli conflict was provided so that audience members could understand the context. The emcee stated that the passionate viewpoints presented by the debaters may not necessarily be their personal viewpoints, since the debaters were assigned these topics.

Merchant started the debate by discussing the volatility of the Middle East and the current conflicts occurring in regions such as Syria and Iraq. She reiterated the importance of the Middle East’s energy reserves, which the U.S. is dependent on. Despite needing the resources of the Middle East, the U.S.’ power and influence in the region is at risk. Merchant stated that this was due to the U.S.’ support of Israel despite the fact that it commits war crimes.

Additionally, Merchant said the U.S. supports democracy abroad, but when a newly-elected leader is not one who supports the U.S., the individual is deemed an enemy or terrorist.

Merchant closed by mentioning that anti-Americanism exists in several parts of the Middle East. By recognizing Hamas as a legitimate body, anti-Americanism would be reduced since America would be demonstrating its support for peace and stability for the entire region and not solely for Israel. Additionally, Merchant said that recognition would cease America’s exceptionalist claim in the region and would demonstrate that America accepts political viewpoints that are different from its own.

Klarman contradicted Merchant’s argument by saying that recognition of Hamas will not solve problems occurring in other parts of the Middle East and that the U.S. has historically been unable to control the region. Additionally, recognizing Hamas is unlikely to dramatically change this pattern.

Klarman also discussed anti-Americanism in the Middle East, but he emphasized that its existence was not only due to American policies towards Israel. He also stated that recognition of Hamas would unravel alliances and cause more death.

“Recognition would also be unjust because Israel has called for peace while still being attacked by Hamas,” Klarman said.

Beyer also argued against Hamas’ recognition. She pointed out that if the U.S. were to recognize the group, Israel would feel less secure in the volatile region.

Beyer’s discussion centered around the sources of Israel’s security, such as Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and the ISIS-fueled turmoil in Iraq.

Additionally, Israel does not have peace treaties with all of the countries in the region, which is another source of Israel’s insecurity. If Israel’s insecurities increase, aggressive policies could also increase, which is exemplified by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tendency to take hardliner views towards Israel’s security, Beyer said. Insecurities and aggressive policies would then cause a military build-up in the region, which risks military miscalculation and accidental war.

Morrow stated that U.S.-Israeli relations would not break down due to Hamas’ recognition. He brings up various points about Hamas, such as its Muslim Brotherhood roots and its capacity for humanitarian work.

He quoted Paul Staniland from the University of Chicago, who said in 2009 that terrorist organizations simply don’t disappear; they either break down due to internal failure or become part of the political process.

“Why should Hamas recognize Israel when the organization itself is not recognized?” Morrow asked.

Moreover, Morrow states that his opponent fails to recognize that Israel sees the U.S. as a declining hegemon, therefore it does not desire more support. Morrow asked if the U.S. should be allies with a “warmongering nation” and whether it is worth being pulled into another war after the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Afterwards, audience members were permitted to ask the debaters questions. A total of six questions were asked. Once the question and answer session ended, each side gave a final speech.

A question an audience member brought up was “What makes Israel a warmongering nation?”

Morrow answered this question by describing Netanyahu’s hardliner foreign policies. He said that it is better to recognize Hamas now so that an equilibrium develops between Israel and Hamas.

Laney Graduate Student Warren Shull asked, “What effect will recognition have on the rights of the Palestinians?”

Both sides agreed that this issue was out of their scope since the main focus was on whether Hamas should be recognized on a global stage. However, the affirmative stated that recognition would be good for the Palestinians.

After the question and answer session, both sides presented final speeches that supported their viewpoints.

Shull felt that the event went well but was disappointed that the rights of the Palestinians were not part of it. He did not think there was a clear winner in the debate, since both sides made reasonable points in support of their viewpoints.

College senior Zach Britton, another audience member, thought the debate was a great way to inform the campus of issues that may not have been considered.

 â€”By Avanti Patel, Contributing Writer