Statement from Limmud Board, 24 May 2013
Limmud-Oz plays a vital and valuable role in the Australian Jewish community. It is unique and special because it brings together all the different parts of the community to celebrate our diversity. It does not divide along lines of age, affiliation or ideology.
Limmud-Oz is guided by a series of international Limmud principles, which enshrine, amongst other things, values of education, diversity, empowerment and volunteerism.
Limmud-Oz is an educational event for the thinking, adult Jewish community – not the general public. It is not about advocacy but an in-house Jewish community-oriented event designed to enable people to explore aspects of Jewish life in a safe, open and Jewish environment. The mission of Limmud around the world, including in Australia, is to “take you one step further on your Jewish journey, wherever you find yourself”.
In 2011, Limmud-Oz took a position which resulted in part in the exclusion of Peter Slezak as a presenter in the program. Subsequent to that, a Limmud Board was established and tasked, amongst other things, to review Limmud-Oz’s presenter selection guidelines and process in consultation with Limmud International, Limmud leaders around the world and local communal leaders.
This review resulted in a change in the decision-making process and a change in the decision-makers.
In 2013, the Limmud Board decided that, where possible, it would ‘play the ball, not the person’ and assess sessions primarily based on their proposed content rather than the presenter.
When Peter Slezak submitted a session entitled “The Wicked Son: Confessions of a Self-Hating Jew” to present at Limmud-Oz 2013 – unsolicited and on his own volition like the vast majority of sessions submitted – clarification was sought as to the content of the session.
Slezak confirmed in an email dated 13 April 2013 that his presentation was about questions of identity, responsibility, tradition and loyalty and would consider Jewish thinkers like Baruch Spinoza, Isaac Deutscher and Hanna Arendt. He stated that the session was not about Israel and the political situation surrounding it.
The Limmud Board agreed to accept Slezak’s session on the following three conditions:
1. The session is presented as part of the subject area stream entitled ‘History and Memory’ and not ‘Israel and the Middle East.’
2. He presents on the topic outlined in his email dated 13 April 2013, in which he stated he would take a “’meta-level’ stance” on issues of Jewish “identity in a cultural, philosophical context”.
3. His session will be moderated to ensure that he remains on topic. The role of the moderator will be to introduce him and the topic he will present, and to facilitate a question and answer session after this presentation.
Slezak accepted the conditions.
Subsequent to the allegations contained in the Australian Jewish News article of 23 May 2013, further clarification was sought from Slezak regarding his proposed session. That same day, he provided more detail of the content of his session, including headings of his PowerPoint presentation. He emphasised that he would be dealing with historical and philosophical questions about dissent and not with contemporary Israel, its relations with the Palestinians or current issues regarding Israel. He clarified that he “had no intention to violate the explicit understanding and commitment I made in good faith about the content of my presentation”.
The Limmud Board met and determined that the conditions of Slezak’s inclusion have not been breached. The Limmud Board therefore upholds its original decision.
Limmud-Oz does not endorse Peter Slezak’s political views or the content of session, just as we do not endorse the content of any particular session at Limmud-Oz. Limmud-Oz acknowledges that many people in the community strongly disagree with Slezak’s views and feel antagonistic towards him.
This is one presenter in one room in one hour – in a packed program of over 200 presenters and sessions. We do not anticipate that every session will be of interest to, or agree with everyone. There are approximately 10 sessions running concurrently each hour so attendees can pick and choose what they do – and do not – want to hear.
People are exposed to confronting or controversial views in the media and elsewhere on a daily basis. At least at Limmud-Oz, which is an in-house, Jewish educational event, those who choose to attend sessions like Slezak’s will hear such views in an environment where they can challenge them and also hear opposing perspectives from a variety of presenters, including international guests Daniel Gordis and Ron Ben Yishai.