Israeli Brothers Argue Way Into World Debating Championship Crown

Omer and Sella Nevo capture second title for Israeli team in three years.

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The Israeli team won the World University Debating Championships in the category of the English as a Second Language on Tuesday, securing the title for the second time in three years.

Tel Aviv University students and brothers Omer Nevo, 26, and Sella Nevo, 22, traveled to Manila and brought home the gold as the first-place team and the first and second-place ESL speakers, respectively.

Brothers Sella, left, and Omer Nevo after clinching the crown.Credit: Shira Blumer

In their final round, the two mathematics and computer science students beat out teams from Malaysia, Berlin, and the Netherlands in a debate that was streamed live online.

In addition to winning the championship, the Nevo brothers broke a record by collecting the most points in the preliminary rounds and narrowly missing the non-ESL octofinal rounds.

The final motion was a debate about the ethics of scientists studying climate change.

"As a past champ, I'll tell you what's the best feeling of all," says Yoni Cohen-Idov, the team's coach and former ESL world champion. "As an Israeli, you're used to getting wary looks, to seeing hostility, to feeling the need to apologize and justify yourself anywhere you go. Winning in a sport that's all about dialogue is a phenomenal sensation, because we feel we represent more than ourselves or our institution. We feel that we show the world another side of Israel, a cultured, witty, amiable, peaceful side," he said.

Teams from across the world competed in the annual event, which includes hundreds of universities and over nine rounds of intercollegiate debate.

"Having students from Pakistan or Malaysia and Jordan congratulate you, and being able to waive the flag and receive cheers from students who usually demonstrate against Israel - we feel we're truly doing something important for our country and for international understanding," said Cohen-Idov.

Cohen-Idov and his debating partner Uri Merhav were the second ESL team in history to make it to the European Universities Debating Championship Grand Finals in 2009.

The Israeli Debate Society - Siah Vasig - was established just 20 years ago. Now quickly spreading to universities across Israel, Cohen-Idov attributes the country's success in the field to its culture. "We love to talk, discuss, argue and debate," he says. "Israelis do it all the time regardless of competitions."

Another factor behind Israel's remarkable debating success is the hard work and training students have put into every competition. The Tel Aviv debating team, for instance, trains twice a week before competitions and has brought in speakers from across the world to share their skills.

Last year, debaters Michael Shapira and Meir Yarom of the University of Haifa won the top ESL at the World Championships in Botswana.



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