Invitation cancelled

May 31, 2012 by Peter Slezak
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With other panellists who were already listed with photos on the 2012 Melbourne Limmud-Oz website, I received a curt notice of cancellation that said only “Our committee has decided not to schedule your session … into the 2012 program.”…writes Peter Slezak

Dr Peter Slezak

It is ironic that the panel discussion that has been unceremoniously dumped was to be on the subject ‘Beyond Tribal Loyalties’ – a new book of essays by international and local Jewish writers. For the second time, organizers of Limmud-Oz have demonstrated the workings of tribal loyalties in the Jewish community. The faceless organizers have confirmed that they learned nothing from last year’s experience of severe criticism within the Jewish community and adverse publicity in the mainstream press. In particular, they repeat their demonstration of contempt for their Jewish audience whom they consider unable to think for themselves and must, therefore, be protected from dangerous opinions. Of course, the danger of hearing contrary opinions and independent thought is that members of the community might stray from the official line. The presenters who are regarded as having crossed some “red” line might turn out not be as irrational, evil or even disloyal as they have been portrayed. Support for the policies of the State of Israel must be troubling for many Jewish consciences, and the attempt to prevent critical voices being heard is a tacit admission of the indefensibility of official views.

The bans cast a disturbing light on the Jewish community as part of a familiar pattern, demonizing and excommunicating those failing to show sufficient loyalty to the official position on Israel. This intolerance of dissent and attempt to maintain conformity does the Jewish community great harm as well as bringing it into disrepute in the wider society. The organizers have given no reasons for their ban on unwelcome ideas, though their action makes a farce of platitudes about inclusiveness, diversity and openness on their website, revealing how little they have understood the basis of decent, liberal societies.

Jews, above all, might have learned something from the famous case of Spinoza’s heresy and his excommunication from the 17th Century Jewish community of Amsterdam. Contrary to the usual rationalizations, you can’t have partial inclusiveness and just a little bit free speech. Even the most tyrannical regimes permit free speech to the views they agree with. Paradoxically, in an open, decent society, it’s the views that you detest most of all that you must protect and ensure get a hearing. As a matter of self-interest, the role of the “devil’s advocate” is essential if we are to retain confidence in our cherished views. In his classic essay ‘On Liberty’ in 1859 the philosopher J.S. Mill famously articulated the principle at stake here – the need to protect and, indeed encourage, unpopular opinion against the “tyranny of the majority.” He said this tyranny may be “more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since … it leaves fewer means of escape … enslaving the soul itself”. Mill argues counter-intuitively that preventing opinions from being heard because they are regarded as not merely false, but even immoral, impious or pernicious, is the case that is “most fatal,” for “These are exactly the occasions on which the men of one generation commit those dreadful mistakes, which excite the astonishment and horror of posterity.” The crime of Galileo was dissent and Socrates was put to death for challenging official authority and failing to teach the “Gods of the State”. Mill says that his executors were not bad men, but on the contrary, “men who possessed in a full, or somewhat more than a full measure, the religious, moral, and patriotic feelings of their time and people.”

The most ardent supporters of Israel must ask themselves whether the moral panic and silencing of dissent within the Jewish community should be accepted with equanimity. They might reflect on the question: Who brings more harm and discredit to Jews and to Israel? Those Jews who seek to engage in well-intentioned debate over the most difficult, divisive questions, or those who seek to prevent it? The heritage of the Jewish and Western intellectual tradition is the idea that education and intellectual life should encourage people to challenge orthodoxies. It is well understood that the very mechanism of discovering truth depends on institutionalizing dissent. The directors of Limmud-Oz have shown how little they understand these important matters.


J-Wire approached Limmud-Oz Melbourne for a comment and was told “a committee member will contact you”. We are yet to be contacted.


Dr. Peter Slezak is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of New South Wales, co-founder of Independent Australian Jewish Voices (IAJV) and Executive Member of Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN)




43 Responses to “Invitation cancelled”
  1. This man drags around a dirty old sack of ‘dissenting voices’ and wonders why no one wants to look inside. Everyone knows what’s in there – it’s no mystery!

  2. Michael says:

    gee judging by the Panel and chairperson at the
    Anti -Israel forum it would like having a panel of nazis and David Irving as chairman
    On the book launch of mein kampf

  3. Rita says:

    If I was not into false modesty, I might say that, perhaps, letters like mine to the LimmudOz committee might have contributed to their wise and decent decision:

    I told them that I would not attend if there were Jew-haters like Porzolt and Slezak spuiking their wares – because I could get this kind of propaganda any time I drank some lovely chocolate at Brenner Cafés and in the streets of Sydney during anti-Jewish hatefests like the recent “Nakba Day” protests.

    Just for memory: have a look at around Minute 8 at this video:!

    And for those with a strong stomach here is a partial transcript of the message that friends of Palestine, Sleazak and Porzolt propagate e.g. here a female voice reading out what is alleged to be a “letter from a Palestinian female prisoner”:

    “…We are your sisters, captured in cages like animals, with zookeepers — the Zionists. Our stomachs have been filled with children of zina [unlawful fornication] from daily rape. Our bodies are paraded naked in front of these animals while they drool over us. Our food is mixed with their faeces and our drink mixed with their urine.

    Where are you, oh brothers? Where is your honour? Why have you not liberated us? Why have you not destroyed the walls of this hell we live in? Even if it means we will die with them. Wallahi [I swear to God]! Wallahi that’s more honourable to us than living in there. Wallahi death to us is sweeter than being handled by them.

    Crowd Members:

    Khaybar Khaybar, ya Yahud! [“Khaybar Khaybar, oh Jews!” — a reference to the Qoranic “Battle of Khaybar” — where Mohammed conquered a Jewish town called Khaybar after a month-long siege]”

    See the whole report here:

    As Mr. Slezak and Frau Porzolt seem to be members of this kind of “groups”, I suggest that a better platform for selling their “books” might be a mosque or such, a venue no doubt generously offered to them.

    Personally I now look forward to Limmud Oz.

    • Rita says:

      whoops, sorry about the double posting – nothing to do with “to be sure to be sure” just a trigger happy finger on the keyboard.

  4. Sol Salbe says:

    Isn’t it good to see so many people (whom I’m assuming are all Jewish) all happy to tell Prof Slezak why he shouldn’t be welcome at LimmudOz. I don’t get impression that it involved undue angst on anyone’s part. Certainly nobody is complaining about fear and trepidation of speaking their minds. So why can’t the LimmudOz committee have the guts to speak up and explain why they have uninvited him and his colleagues after displaying his photo as a presenter for several days?

    • Sol Salbe:

      In case you missed the overwhelming support Limmud Oz has received for their decision to withdraw Peter Slezak and Vivienne Porzsolt appearences at this year’s event, here are a few pointers:

      – Limmud Oz is meant to be a “Festival of Jewish Learning” and not an occasion for ANTI Jewish propganda. In case you are not familiar with the local realities unfolded for the past few decades, both Slezak and Porzsolt have been at the forefront of totally unacceptable manifestations of severe attacks against Israel. Theirs is not an exercise in “redressing” injustices, but a blatant alignement with the most vicious detractors of the Jewish State.

      – Considering the well informed objections by a large section of our community, one may safely assume that Limmud Oz is in complete syncronisation with the views amply articuilated by those of us who wish to support Limmud Oz as a legitimate Jewsih institution. It means that Limmud Oz reflect accurately the views of its own ” constituency”. I fully agree with Limmud’s decisions as a concerned member of our community and also a consistent local active participant in its programmes.

      If you really want a formal “explanation” I am sure that Limmud, in referernce to my points, would subscribe with a simple: DITTO.
      Otherwise ,if you want to continue stirring up a redundancy, please yourself….

      • Sol Salbe says:

        Simple ditto will be indeed lovely. . You get them to say so and I will be most grateful. But so far , unlike you,they have not the courage of their conviction. Remember I never asked them to reverse their decision, just to give their reason in public.

        • Alright, tachles….
          I suspect that you would be more than familiar with Limmud’s ideology. If so, then their decision is consistent with it and stating the obvious is not so obviously necessary.
          I also suggest that, if still broiges, turn it against something worthy of it, such as Peter Slezak’s stance on Zionism !

        • Shirlee says:

          I heard it was never fait accompli, the session was only short listed.

          What does it matter anyway? It’s been stopped.

  5. Shirlee says:

    Good onya Limmud Oz, for once doing the right thing. At least, in some small part, it pardons you for giving air space to the NIF earlier this month.

    Slesak and his cohorts use their Jewishness as a means to an end, as they did at Marrickville. They sicken me.

    Last year at every BDS rally, there were at least a couple of so-called Jews speaking loudly and proclaiming their support for BDS, whilst they used every catch cry of the pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel groups, making sure that everyone knew they were Jewish, usually to cheers.

    One only has to do as I do and follow the web sites and Facebook pages of pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel groups and individuals, to see how they revel in the fact that someone is a Jew and even he/she says something or agrees with them.

    There’s Free Speech and there’s *FREE SPEECH*. Israel is the punching bag worldwide, we don’t need our own to be part of it.

  6. Just stating the obvious.
    Peter Slezak wanted his views known/published.
    Now he knows what his community thinks. I reckon this sample provides the added reason for his Limmud Oz rejection. Happy now !!??

  7. david says:

    Henry has hit the nail firmly on Peter Slezak’s head.

    Tribal loyalty is a very powerful concept – especially in the case of the Jews who number just 16 million world wide – and see their only state presently containing some 6.25 million of those Jews under the continuing threat of annihilation from 21 of the 23 Arab states that still confront Israel – with Iran and Turkey also thrown in for good measure – 64 years after its establishment.

    That Jews knowingly are prepared to actively associate themselves with these ongoing efforts to eliminate the state of Israel is very sad indeed.

    Despite shedding crocodile tears at being excluded from Limmud Oz – Peter Slezak has managed to find an alternative venue at which to spruik his personal views. It will not just happen to be at one of the tribe’s rallying events.

    The tribe has spoken in recognizing the importance of loyalty – long live the tribe and long may it prosper.

  8. Daniel says:

    Peter Slezak has never been seen at a Shule. Never been seen at a communal function. There is nothing even remotely Jewish about him or his family. That’s his choice, but it’s quite hypocritical and tragic when he refers to his Jewish background as a novel basis for his hostility towards Israel and all things Jewish.

    Limmud Oz have of course kicked an own-goal, as these career attention seekrs will make hay out of the fact they are somehow ‘censored’ for their views. “Silencing of dissent”? Give me a break. Needless to say none of them require bodyguards or to check under their car each day. Try being an outspoken Muslim and see what happens.

    • Ben says:

      Then what is Limmud OZ afraid of ? The truth coming out? Let them have the meeting and critics can question and expose their alleged falsehoods. The real danger to bigots here is that their own falsity might be exposed. Evidently they do not wish to see themselves in a mirror.

      • Limmud Oz is just about NOT allowing Slezak, Porzsolt, “Ben” and their seriously centrifugal ilk to abuse Jewish decency in intellectual hospitality. Now that a Supreme Court edict allows their kind to reek havoc with uncivilised impunity on an otherwise civilised city, they can speel their bile, scream and vomit slogans to their mindless disposition’s delight. As Peter Slezak himself has been known, seen and heard marching to the tune of Jew hatred CBD demos, he and his fellow George St. travellers can use that platform to the “cheers “of the seriously inconvenienced compatriots. WE don’t need their version of “truth”. And if not happy, go tell your priest, imam. analyst……….

        • …typo…read ” schpiel or even spill their bile etc…..”


        • Ben says:

          No one at the festival is compelled to attend the session. So what if some air the view that the “earth moves around the sun” and not vice versa ? Is numerical superiority the criterion for testing the validity and truth of a view ? ZIonist supporters are welcome to refute their views and expose their untruths if any. That way they will strentgthen their cause and build confidence among their supporters. Acting to silence a voice of dissent only shows that the Zionists have much to hide and lack intellectual and moral confidence.

      • Shirlee says:

        It’s their prerogative to do as they want . They don’t need to answer to you

        The only thing about having guts, as far as I can see, is the fact they have cancelled the session.

      • Shirlee says:


        It’s been quiet around here without you.

        No one is afraid of anything. There’s enough untrue Israel bashing without having the enemy within at it too.

  9. It is somehow sad that a very articulate plea contains such a disturbing weight of farcical argumentation.
    The mere analogy Peter Slezak makes between himself and heroes of ethical stances against intollerance makes for a set of fallacies that Peter Slezak himslef should be well acquinted with.
    Containg a raft of blatant contradictions and even offensive suggestions, such the repeated comment that the Jewish “hoi poloi” is incapable of arriving at rational conclusions without the aid of … dissenters from the same Jewish fold, then insisting that what is intent of destroying a certain identity is… beneficial for the same Peter Slezak is yet to discern the simple message that our Jewish community, of which he is, most certainly a member of ( and I hate to sound patronising ) is quite capable of running its own affairs in an intelligent, comprehensively informed, ethical, fair, equitable manner. Our community does not require the “contribution” of those who, most obviously, side with the known enemies of our causes. We do have a fair degree of disagrements between our members, some of which may be placed at serious political odds with each other. The dynamics of our disagreements reach at times dergrees of radical polarisation. Yet those who find themselves at opposite ends will still accept the mechanisms of NECESSARY dialectics up to the point of serious transgressions.
    Unfortunately the presenters now rejected by Limmud Oz have been well known for seriously crossing the line of acceptable diferences.
    By his own admission, Peter Slezak intended to infuse the debate on Israel with the very familiar radical pro Palestinian presentation of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. How this intent is similar to Spinoza or Galilleo or Socrates ( as he has aluded on previous occasions ) is beyond the acceptable.
    We are confronted with Peter Slezak strictly with a strong partisan for the hard core anti Israel Palestinian ideology coated in a para academic mantra. Limmud Oz, as well as any other person of genuine concern for the prommotion of Zionism, have been aware of the ACTUL intent of the pseudo academic form and reacted justly against the very substance of his intent.
    Once again, without any prejudice or arrogance, I would suggest that Peter Slezak should be pretty happy with the lot of his choice. He should be just as displeased with Limmud’s decision as , say, Sheik Hillaly would be if finding himself in the same situation. Simply put, Peter Slezak you have made your points already, no doubt, at all your meetings with your APAN fellow activists and. surely, they must have loved it. Do you really need the opprobium of your….fellow Jews on the same score. It does not look very stimmell to me !

  10. Kim says:

    Refusal to even listen to differring views amongst the broad Jewish communitg in Australia is not only misguided but makes the organisers look like they are not a part of the Australian democracy but merely the puppets of the bloc that so often tries to excercise control over all Jews in Australia! Thaf is why many of us feel alienated and hostile to such control freaks. You not only lose my generation- a baby boomer but will havd no sympathy from my egalitarian children and grandchildren who just see this behaviour as racism -nothing less….

    • Kim…

      As the product of the baby boomer era and also well acquinted with a large number of my own generation and also the much younger one, I can only qualify your comment as outrageously fructured from reality…..
      I agree that one must render “weight” to one’s argument, but contriving such incongruous “reasoning” coupled with “facts” that emerge from convenient falshoods, fanciful extensions of your own subjective perspectives endowed with the imaginary image of “objective realities” , make for laughable and, to be honest, shameful displays.
      Our community, of which you are either NOT a member or , if one, then a seriously dislodged one, contains all the necessary elements of democratic, fair, intelligent dymamics. That you would not be a well informed or well entrenched member of it is amply obviois by the nature of your comments.
      As usual, such “contributions” come with single names and that, in itself, is the best argument in my favour.

  11. Robert says:

    A policy to boycott Israel at every level, including accademics and spokespersons
    Limud Oz returns the compliment,so they cry victim.
    Go figure the logic.

  12. Mark says:

    I have said a lot about this on my facebook page which you are welcome to look at, bar trawlers. I will make this debate public.

  13. Jack Chrapot says:

    I have to agree with the writer’s sentiments.

    We should be able to hear all points of view and that is what makes the BDS movement which attacks Israeli academics and artists so odious.

    I trust that the author strongly condemns this practice as well.

  14. Miriam says:

    I’m not sure which is worse – last year’s organisers bleating about how Slezak’s views on BDS cancelled, effectively, his Jewishness (despite his proposed panel having nothing to do with BDS), or this year’s organisers’ arrogant silence. either way, the community is being treated like a vacuous child, fit only to be manipulated.

    • I’ll tell you what’s worse, Miriam. It is the verve for principles such as “fairness”, “free speech” etc. being manipulated by those who have gone out of their way to ensure that deleterious stances to Zionut are being aired smack in the middle of our community.
      To be fair to all kinds of preferences, those who are anxious to hear Peter Slezak and/or Vivienne Porzsolt can see them in full flight at any gathering of the Palestinian fraternity. I personally have no idea or interest in knowing the precise location of the holes their congregate in, but your brother Peter or sister Vivienne will be sure to oblige. Or maybe you expect JWire or Limmud Oz to provide that kind of information as well !!!

  15. Michael says:

    Poor Peter having a tantrum nor being invited to theparty
    Why not hold the israel hate session the arab/ Islamic
    Study centre sponsored talk fest, it will go down well there.

  16. Forum: LimmudX: Too hot to handle?

    Sunday, 10 June 2012, 15:00 – 16:30

    Monash University, Building B Room 2.18 Monash University, Caulfield Campus,

    A public forum with some of the contributors to the recently published book: ‘Beyond Tribal Loyalties: Personal Stories of Jewish Peace Activists’ : Sivan Barak, Peter Slezak, Vivienne Porzsolt, David Langsam, Nicole Erlich, and Avigail Abarbanel (editor).

    This forum was refused a place, without explanation, in the program of Limmud Oz 2012, the Festival of Jewish Learning. It is being held in the public interest as an independent event.

    For more information on the banning of the session and to sign the petition see

    Each of the speakers will briefly speak about their contribution to the book. The session will then be open for questions and answers.

    The forum will be chaired by June Factor, a long-term advocate of free speech in Australia and a past president of Liberty Victoria. Dr Factor is also an Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Centre, University of Melbourne.

    Location, travel information etc:

    Building location: If you get onto the Monash Caulfield Campus, go to the open grassed area. Look to the side with the buildings that have a walkway and what look like cheese sticks. Just beyond the trees at the left end is the Library (building A). Go up the stairs which is level 2. Right opposite the Library in a tiny plaza-like area, is Building B. Room 2.18 is at the back of that floor and will be clearly marked. If you are attending Limmud Oz, Building B is to the left of the cheese sticks that face onto Building H where Limmud Oz is being held.

    All members of the public are welcome. Free entry.

    Forum organised by: Sivan Barak, Peter Slezak, Vivienne Porszolt, David Langsam, Nicole Erlich, and Avigail Abarbanel.

    Supported by Liberty Victoria and the Australian Jewish Democratic Society.

    • Consequently, I reckon that Larry Stillman should resign as presenter at Limmud Oz in protest, unless he is no longer associated with AJDC.
      I am undecided in my options
      :- If Stillman remains with Limmud Oz proper then he defies the “counter” “Limmud, thus betraying his comrades That will amuse me.
      – If Stillman abandones Limmud Oz proper that will be fair to both his mates and the Jewish community. I am , actually, refereing to Stillman’s political lecture. I would regret, though, his lecture on strict academic linguistic maters in which I would be very interested and, to my mind, the only subject he generally should devote his time.

  17. Henry says:

    Eloquent as Peter is he misses an essential point in that dissenting from an over the top support of Israel is quite different to lending support and succour to organisations that are essentially bent on the destruction of Israel. Dissent as much as you like but don’t undermine your case.

  18. Rami says:

    Another self hating Judas. Dr. Slezak plays with Israel’s enemies and demonizes his own people.

    • Sabra says:

      Agreed. What a moron.

      • Miriam says:

        how risible and idiotic of you to use ‘Judas’ as a term of abuse for a Jewish man voicing his deep-seated ethical beliefs.

        • Miriam too says:

          ethical? if he’s so ethical why doesnt he mention that James Barr who is the president of APAN and Slezak says he is on the exec of APAN, is speaking at Limmud. I guess Limmud arent afraid of dissenting views – they just done want P. Slezak to join. doesnt suit his argument to tell the truth huh, so much for ethical.

    • Raine says:

      Seriously that is your come back? Not to engage with the ideas that Dr Slezak puts forward but to just demonize him? All you have managed to do by dragging out this tired old accusation is to have proven his point.

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