Daniel Pipes, a controversial Middle East commentator whose appearance at Yale two years ago was met with a large-scale protest, was more the bookish historian than provocative pundit when he delivered a speech last night at the opening meeting of the Yale Political Union that sparked no visible opposition.
In front of a crowded audience of over 300 students, Pipes, the director of the Middle East Forum, argued the topic “Resolved: The Arab-Israeli conflict will only end when one side is defeated,” making the case that diplomacy in the Middle East has failed. He answered a few questions from the audience following his speech, but the tone of the debate remained sedate, and many in attendance speculated that the format of the YPU debate, which allotted time specifically for dissenters to speak, defused the tension that had erupted two years ago .
“We were very pleased that there were no protests and that a lot of people stayed to participate in the debate afterwards,” YPU President Jennifer Rost ’06 said. “It reflected very well on Yale students.”
During a November 2003 speech by Pipes at Yale, about a third of the audience wore black clothing and gags in protest. After Pipes spoke, he was met with pointed questions from the audience.
Although visible protest was absent during last night’s speech, the resolution presented by Pipes failed in a vote at the end of the evening.
Pipes argued during his speech that the Oslo Accords of 1993, which led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority, were “deeply counter-productive” and that the recent Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip would encourage further Palestinian terrorism.
“Diplomacy in general does not resolve conflicts,” Pipes said. “Wars end not due to peace processes, but due to one side giving up.”
Although Pipes’ argument focused mainly upon the conditions under which a final resolution would be possible and not upon which side ought to win, he indicated at the end of his speech that he believed only an Israeli victory could lead to a successful two-state solution.
Rost said that of the student YPU members who delivered speeches after Pipes spoke, a majority disagreed with the argument that diplomacy was ineffective.
“We ended up with a couple more negative speeches than affirmative speeches,” Rost said. “Students generally more disagreed with him, but people had a good debate.”
While most students in attendance agreed that Pipes’ rhetoric was not as inflammatory as at his last appearance, some students found his speech offensive, accusing him of imprecise scholarship and latent racism towards the Palestinians.
“He demonizes the Palestinians, drawing huge generalizations off of sketchy statistics,” Diala Shamas ’06, co-president of the Arab Students’ Association, said. “He used animal vocabulary when talking about Palestinians.”
Shamas said Pipes seemed to anticipate the emotion his speech might arouse and avoided discussing the points that would have been most controversial.
“He was talking about ‘military victory,’ but he never specified what he meant by that,” Shamas said. “That’s very open to question.”
In an interview before his speech, Pipes said his appearance two years ago “wasn’t the ideal venue for serious debate,” but that the vociferousness of the protesters nevertheless had ranked in the “lower half” compared to other campuses he has visited.
He said he accepts the fact that generally two-thirds of his audience has already made up their minds upon arriving at his speeches, and so he focuses upon persuading the remaining undecided third.
“I have a symbiotic relationship with my opponents — their coming out against me arouses curiosity in what I have to say,” Pipes said.
Two campus police officers attended the speech, one posted by the back door of the lecture hall and one by a side door. Two years ago, the hall became overcrowded, and police officers had been forced to prevent more students from entering.
“This time it’s been very peaceful, which is the goal, but you never know, so that’s why you prepare,” Yale Police Department Lt. Michael Patten said.
Rost said the YPU had requested police presence because of the circumstances at the last speech.
Upcoming speakers for the YPU include U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, who will speak the first week in October.