Israel the superpower

…in debating. From the Jerusalem Post:

That Israel is an international hi-tech superpower is a source of endless pride for Israelis. What is less well known is that in the past decade Israel has become an international superpower in another arena: competitive debating.

Debating is an unusual sport. Teams (pairs of speakers) are given a motion (a proposition in the form “This House Would/Believes”) and told to speak either in favor of it or against – and no, they can’t pick. They then have 15 minutes to prepare; each debater gives a seven-minute speech. Motions can touch on virtually any subject, from international relations to popular culture, so debaters have to keep abreast of current affairs and then think fast on their feet. This is a talent that Israel has in bucket-loads, and it’s a natural resource that the Jewish state has only just begun to tap into.

Israel recently conquered the world with a hat-trick of consecutive victories at the World Universities Debating Championships in the English as a Second Language (ESL) category, as Tel Aviv’s Yoni Cohen-Idov and Uri Merhav (2010), Haifa’s Michael Shapira and Meir Yarom (2011) and Tel Aviv’s Omer and Sella Nevo (2012) were named World Champions. In 2013 in Berlin, Alon van Dam and Ben Gladnikoff from the IDC Herzliya’s Raphael Recanati International School reached the ESL World Final, and Tel Aviv’s Kobi Matsri won the Public Speaking Competition.

In Europe, the Israeli Debating League is a veritable juggernaut. The annual European Universities Debating Championship hosts over 200 teams from across Europe. Israel consistently sends the tournament’s third-largest delegation, with 11 percent of all teams – behind only the UK (35%) and Ireland (14%).

This makes Israel the most active of all non-Anglophone countries on the European circuit and by far the most active per capita. Only the Netherlands and Germany come close to the behemoth-sized Israeli debating machine, with 7% apiece; the rest of Europe trails behind.


I have my theory about what is going on, but I’m happy enough with the explanation given in the article. Read it all, here.