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January 30, 2009

A panel gone awry
Posted by Max Bergmann

For those of us who have had to organize panel discussions - my sympathies go out to the staffers at Davos who must have been flipping out as the panel on Gaza got heated and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan stormed off the stage (see video there). Erdogan and Israeli President Simon Peres were arguing about Gaza when the moderator - the Washington Post's David Ignatius - tried to move the discussion on - but Erdogan was not finished and stormed off the stage in protest. Later Erdogen said he did not leave because of the heated exchange with Peres but because of the moderator not alloting him time to respond. As he returned home however Erdogan was greeted as a hero for his defiance and clearly played to the crowd saying: "I only know that I have to protect the honour of Turkey and Turkish people."

The incident is potentially serious. Israel has had close diplomatic relations with Turkey, which have been particularly important in mediating talks or conflicts between Israel and its neighbors - especially with Syria. A further souring of these relations would only put in place another obstacle to rekindling the peace process.


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I have moderated my share of panels too, and understand the challenges of managing the debate and time constraints at the same time. But Ignatius seemed supremely unconcerned about time constraints as he let Peres ramble on for 25 solid minutes, while Erdogan say quietly and patiently, writing notes for his response. To then cut Erdogan off was stunning, and will naturally be viewed as a contemptuous affront.

US foreign relations and our foreign reputation are not solely in the hands of our government, but are the mutual responsibility of each American acting abroad. Ignatius represents one of our flagship newspapers, and whether he intended to or not, he sent a message of American partiality toward Israel and contempt for the opinions of the Muslim world which undermines ten bland Al-Arabiyya interviews put together.

If I'm someone in the Middle East today, I'm going to be fuming with one of the oldest complaints against the US: "You don't listen!"

Like most people, I didn't watch the full one and a half-hours of the debate. I just watched the last eight minutes.

Let me just say that, if I were a debate moderator in a panel which included the UN Secretary General, Secretary General of the Arab League, the President of Israel and the Prime Minister of Turkey, I wouldn't try to cut one of them off by saying "we have to get people to dinner".

Honestly, what was he thinking?? :)

Honestly, what was he thinking

Honestly, what was he thinking

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