In Land of the Never-ending Argument, High Schoolers Learn Finer Points of Debate

Ironi Dalet team wins the Sig ve Siach competition, a joint project of the Education Ministry, the Citizens' Empowerment Center and the Israel Debating Society.

Early on in the final round of Israel's first school debate contest yesterday, Daria Hadas set the tone for the remainder of the discussion on the use of the female body in advertisements.

"The women in the ads are always smiling and look super-perfect," the 12th-grader at Tel Aviv's Ironi Dalet school said.

Students at school, Illustration
Alberto Dankberg

"Regular girls who compare themselves to those women feel like they'll never be able to be that beautiful. It makes them feel bad about their bodies," she said.

The second argument made by Hadas, the team leader, was that the women presented in advertisements don't need to have minds, "the main thing is the chest, so they can serve their man at home. These women aren't really human, but rather a kind of object, a decoration."

Facing a supportive audience consisting of a few dozen friends, teachers and parents, the Ironi Dalet team won the Sig ve Siach competition, a joint project of the Education Ministry, the Citizens' Empowerment Center in Israel and the Israel Debating Society.

In honor of International Women's Day the topics for yesterday's debates, as well as for the previous stages, all had to do with gender. They included separation of the sexes in schools and in public buses, and whether combat positions in the army should be open to women.

"Arguing is fun, it's like a sport, only for people who don't like sports," Hadas said a few minutes after her team took the prize last night. One benefit of the project, added classmate Roee Shulman, is "You learn how discussion should be conducted, but all around you constantly see how everyone is shouting at everyone else, without making any effort at persuasion. It's kind of frustrating."

A few months ago around 30 civics and social studies teachers completed a six-session training course on the principles of formal debate. Unlike similar efforts in the past at the school or municipal level, Sig ve Siach has the direct support of Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar.

Of the 25 or so schools that enrolled in the project, most of from the center of the country, only 16 made it to the intermural rounds and to yesterday's final, a weeding process that was mirrored in the student participants at each school as well.

According to Citizens Empowerment Center Executive Director Yuval Lipkin, next year the program will be expanded to include hundreds of high schools throughout Israel.