DESPITE the controversy that preceded this year’s Limmud-Oz, the event passed without incident over the long weekend and has been hailed as “the biggest ever, attracting 1200 participants including over 200 presenters”.
The festival of learning, which was organised by the Shalom Institute and held at the University of NSW (UNSW), came under fire in recent weeks for agreeing to host vehement Israel critic Peter Slezak.
The academic, who co-founded Independent Australian Jewish Voices, had been banned from speaking at the event in the past.
But despite talk of people boycotting the festival and fears that Slezak would renege on an agreement not to discuss Israel, his session, “The Wicked Son – Confessions of a Self-Hating Jew”, avoided controversy
The UNSW academic only referred to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel in passing, when he jokingly said that he probably wasn’t allowed to murmur the initials of Jewish Dutch philosopher Baruch (de) Spinoza.
When questions were opened up to the audience, it was the chief executive of the Shalom Institute, Hilton Immerman, who broached the topic of BDS when he asked Slezak if he supported the boycotting of universities.
Slezak told the audience he is ambivalent towards the BDS campaign against Israel. However, as recently as January this year, he signed a statement supporting Jake Lynch’s campaign against Israel, which called for the University of Sydney to cut all ties with the Technion in Haifa.
The organisers of Limmud-Oz said Slezak’s presentation turned out to be a “storm in a teacup”.
“As a board, we have not bowed to that pressure [to remove people from the program],” the board said in a statement to The AJN.
“We will continue to be guided by the Limmud principles, and we will continue to make the case that Limmud is needed in this community as an open and safe and inclusive place for the entire Jewish community that allows everyone to take one further step on their Jewish journey.”
The board also disputed a claim made by JCA president Peter Philippsohn last week that Slezak would not appear at Limmud-Oz events in future.
The board said that it would continue to participate in an ongoing and open dialogue with the community, but stressed “it has not made any decisions regarding future Limmud events or any commitments to anyone regarding future Limmud events”.
Highlighting the success of the event, organiser Michael Misrachi said, “The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. The extraordinary thing about Limmud-Oz is the way it brings together people from across the community – left and right, religious and secular, young and old – to engage in and talk about ideas and issues facing the Jewish community and world in a meaningful way.”
For full Limmud coverage, see this week’s AJN.
Dr Peter Slezak.