The Oxford Union held a debate on the motion: This House Believes Hamas is a Greater Obstacle to Peace Than Israel. Shmuley Boteach spoke on the proposition.
Rabbi Boteach puts in a ten second pause at the beginning. An opening pause is very powerful. Counter-intuitively it actually gets the audience’s attention and is a good reducer of nerves. Ten seconds is huge, and I think it works for him.
An overt gag at the very front of a speech is not a good idea. As soon as the audience become aware that this is a gag, there is pressure on them to laugh – which paradoxically makes it less likely that they will do so. It’s a good gag, well told, and deserves a bigger laugh, but now you know why it doesn’t get it. It would work better a little later in the speech, but it would have less point then: its point now is the injection of poison into the Middle East. Boteach’s skill as a speaker is already abundantly clear, so I have no doubt that he had a debate with himself along the lines of the early part of this paragraph. He knows all that stuff and simply made a policy decision.
Halfway through his second minute he launches an extended symploce on the words “as if you […] bad people”. No sooner has that run its course than he is into anaphora – “if a Jew did that…”. Does he know these obscure terms? I have no idea, but as I made clear in this posting it’s not necessary to know the words to deploy the figures of speech..
He delivers with histrionic fervour. This is theatre! He doesn’t have quite the operatic tone of Cornel West, but being less distracting he is probably more persuasive. He is phenomenally persuasive
Please do not infer that I think this performance is just artifice. There is no doubt in my mind that Boteach means every word from the depths of his soul.
And as a speaker he is outstanding.