May 25, 2011
A SYDNEY festival celebrating ”the broad diversity of opinions within the wider Jewish community” has banned two speakers because they supported Marrickville Council’s ill-fated boycott of Israel.
The University of NSW academic Peter Slezak, from Independent Australian Jewish Voices, and Vivienne Porzsolt, from Jews Against the Occupation – Sydney, were told by email they were no longer welcome to address the Limmud-Oz festival next month, due to their ”active and vocal involvement” in the proposed boycott at Marrickville.
However, organisers said the three-day festival of Jewish learning and creativity would not ”shy away from tough issues”.
The issue of the boycott will still be the topic of at least two sessions, while others would tackle ”challenging points of view”.
Dr Slezak, who had been invited to speak at the event for the second time, said the decision reflected the Jewish community’s ”hysterical” reaction to Marrickville planning to join the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) against Israel.
He addressed the topic at the council’s meeting when it abandoned the policy last month. ”I argued that even people who are opposed to BDS should stand up for Marrickville Council against the unprecedented campaign of denunciation and bullying.”
In a statement provided by the Shalom Institute program director, Michael Misrachi, organisers said they decided to rule out presenters who advocated the boycott because it undermined the event’s engagement with Israeli academic and artistic institutions and their representatives.
”This is not about censorship, nor are we seeking to stifle dissenting views. Limmud-Oz is proud of the principles of pluralism and inclusiveness which guide us and Limmuds around the world,” it read.
Mr Misrachi confirmed Dr Slezak and Ms Porzsolt’s names were removed from the list of speakers on the event’s website following complaints.
Two other speakers have since pulled out of the festival in protest at the ban, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported.
Ms Porzsolt, who said she would still attend the festival, told organisers in an email they had misrepresented the boycott, and asked them to reconsider.
”My proposed workshop was not even on BDS … The exclusion of me as a person for the ideas I hold generally, and not because of the topic of my workshop, smacks of excommunication,” it read.
The chief executive of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, Vic Alhadeff, said it endorsed the decision of the Shalom Institute.