Debate teams must not be allowed to justify terrorism (COMMENTARY)

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(RNS) Many of the older students in my religious school are heavily involved in debate teams. 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 (April 9-11).

shutterstock_216821491Here 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 Anti-Defamation League, 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.”

ADL called on the debate association, which organized the event, to publicly apologize for this incident.

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

READ: When John Kasich taught Torah

Imagine the following debate topics:

  • “Police violence against black people is justified, provided the police officers in question feel personally intimidated.”
  • “Violence against LGBT people is justified, provided the assailant feels his own masculinity has been challenged or threatened.”
  • “Violence against immigrants is justified, provided 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.

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 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’s 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.

(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. He writes the Martini Judaism blog for RNS)