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Israeli Cambridge student spoofs Netanyahu, taunts Corbyn in debate


An Israeli PhD candidate has spoofed famous speeches made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a traditional Cambridge University joke debate, held to mark Guy Fawkes Night.

Ido Rosen also used his speech to attack former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who was recently suspended from his party after rejecting the findings of a investigation into the handling of antisemitism complaints within the party while he was in charge. The proposition debated by the students was: “This house would re-enact the gunpowder plot,” a nod to the history behind the commemorated day; on November 5, 1605 Guy Fawkes, a Catholic dissident involved in the Gunpowder Plot, was arrested while guarding explosives placed by the group under the House of Lords in London. Rosen and his team ultimately won the debate by 72% against to 21% voting for the proposition, and 7% abstaining.

The debate was held jointly by The Cambridge Union Society, a debate and free speech society at the university, and Cambridge Footlights, an amateur theatrical company run by students. 

In Cambridge’s competitive debates the regular rules of debating do not apply, offering scope for “wild stand up acts with a vague connection to the title,” Rosen said. 

Rosen’s use of Netanyahu’s speeches was preceded by one by his team mate, Gabriel Barton-Singer, who suggested that “defending the gunpowder plot is basically endorsing terrorism.”

This segued neatly into Rosen aiming to prove the opposition’s argument by parodying Netanyahu’s past speeches, such as the “Nuclear Duck” speech which Netanyahu gave at the 2012 AIPAC convention to convince the audience of Iran’s intentions with its nuclear capabilities. 

“If it walks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck, then what is it? That’s right, it’s a duck, but this duck is a nuclear duck,” Netanyahu said, a line that has often been parodied since, due to its unintended comedic affect.

That same year, Netanyahu stood in front of the United Nations with a cartoon drawing of a bomb – again illustrating Iran’s nuclear intentions, again producing a comic effect ripe for parody – in addition to physically drawing a red line on the bomb while emphasizing that red line must be drawn before Tehran acquires enriched uranium.

These two speeches, in addition to others by Netanyahu, allowed Rosen build his team’s argument. In addition, due to the relaxed nature of the event, Rosen was able to include digressions from his main topic, sending his darts towards other targets – for example, Jeremy Corbyn. 

“At this point I was supposed to present psychiatric evaluations of the [other team’s] members. Unfortunately, my psychiatrist friend that was handling this had other obligations this week,” he said in his speech. “You see, he also works as Jeremy Corbin’s therapist. On their last session he told Corbyn that his rejection of the report about antisemitism in the Labour party affirms that he is in deep repression and denial. Corbyn told him that this is defamatory, grabbed his things, and began walking out of the clinic. The therapist said ‘wait, um, what about my payment’? So Corbyn replied ‘oh, don’t be such a Jew,” Rosen said in his speech. Ido Rosen, Tel Aviv native and PhD student of the Cambridge University (courtesy)Ido Rosen, Tel Aviv native and PhD student of the Cambridge University (courtesy)

Although Rosen and his team-mates won by a healthy margin, he admitted it was not easy.

“It was a big challenge, in which all the odds were against me,” Rosen told The Jerusalem Post.“It is hard to imagine a group of people with better rhetorical skills than British English-students at Cambridge. And I, on the other hand, am a foreign student from Tel Aviv. When the Israeli actress Gal Gadot speaks with a heavy accent everyone thinks it is adorable. When I do it people think: ‘Who is this Borat? Who let him into the union?'” 

He said that what aided him despite the hardships was his thorough familiarization with over 70 years of Israeli diplomacy.

“Especially with the past decade, in which we have beheld some memorable speeches by the media master, Lilyan Wilder’s top student, the person that even his greatest rivals agree that ‘you have to admit, he does have impeccable English’ – the one and only ‘King Bibi’. So, I borrowed every trick in his book – the bomb chart, the nuclear duck, the dramatic revelation of intelligence data, etc., and exaggerated them even more. I mean, let’s face it, they were kind of ridiculous to begin with.”

November 5 not only marked the day to commemorate the failure of the plot, but also marked the first day of the second lockdown in England, leading to the debate being held online over Zoom in a last minute rush. The debate material had to be adapted and rewritten with only 48 hours notice prior. 

The black tie dress code however, was still kept even while people broadcasted from their living rooms or student accommodations, according to Rosen.

“I also included a gesture to who I believe is truly the best diplomat Israel ever had, Abba Eban, (who is a Cambridge Alumni, by the way). I was planning to wink at Menachem Begin as well, but had to drop it when lockdown was imposed, and it turned out we will have to settle for a zoom edition.”

Rosen is a PhD candidate researching Israeli cinema and notably wrote a play that became the first ever Israeli play to be presented at the famous ADC theater in Cambridge.

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