The Australian Jewish Democratic Society (AJDS) is deeply disappointed that the organising committee of Limmud Oz 2016 has decided that the invitation extended to Bassam Dally – who was to speak with Sivan Barak (a member of the Executive of the AJDS) in a conversation entitled “Fighting for Coexistence” should be withdrawn. While the organisers claim that the programming policy enables them to ban Bassam from speaking, we believe that this decision represents a hopeless and shameful misstep and should be reversed.
Limmud Oz makes a claim to being a space for broad discussion, dialogue, and challenging conversations. Yet, in deciding that Bassam is not allowed to speak they have effectively applied a very specific and limited litmus test to one speaker. Indeed, this test demonstrates a deep disrespect for the intelligence of the attendees of Limmud Oz and the Jewish community, and shows the organisers to be out of step with where the community is headed. It beggars belief that the organisers truly believe that talking with a Palestinian who also supports the principles of BDS will harm the community. Indeed, a current poll in the right-leaning Australian Jewish News shows considerable support for hearing the views of BDS supporters at Jewish events. Jews of all ideological persuasions want the right to judge for themselves.
In any case, Bassam and Sivan’s session did not plan to touch on BDS in any way. Ironically, it was to be a session about dialogue and coexistence. The possibility of these seem distant when this session, and likely one of the sole Palestinian voices at the Conference, can be swiftly silenced by invoking the BDS bogeyman. At the same time, the organisers thought it appropriate to include in the program a talk with the antagonistic and loaded title, “ The BDS Movement and the Demonisation of Jewish Supporters of Israel.”
Barring people from a conference because they promote a strategy of non-violence as a response to decades of violence is extremely counter-productive. Such censorship limits the already miniscule number of Palestinian voices that mainstream Jews hear. It is also out of step with the increasing support at home and worldwide from Jews themselves.
Moreover, if the reports are accurate that Limmud Oz’s funding was threatened if Bassam had participated, then we worry about the place of donor funding in the community. Surely, as a community, we should be striving to make spaces for the most challenging and demanding conversations, not allowing financial imperatives to close them off.
The Jewish community in Melbourne, and throughout Australia, would benefit immeasurably from talking more, and more openly, with Palestinians. We have much to learn. Sadly, it would seem that the organisers of Limmud Oz are intent on ensuring that this will be made more difficult.
The AJDS calls on Limmud Oz to reverse their decision, and to ensure that future programs are not tainted by this restriction on the sharing of knowledge and open conversation. Our Jewish community will be richer for it.
This statement was written by the AJDS Executive Committee, June 5, 2016