Slezak WILL present at Limmud Oz

May 24, 2013 by J-Wire Staff
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Media reports that Jewish philosopher Peter Slezak’s participation at this year’s Limmud-Oz in Sydney may be in doubt, the organisers have issued a statement  that Slezak will be a presenter at the event.

The statement from Limmud Oz follows:

Dr Peter Slezak

Dr Peter Slezak

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.


5 Responses to “Slezak WILL present at Limmud Oz”
  1. Janet says:

    I was a committed and active opponent of the short-lived Marrickville BDS policy. I heard and disagreed with Peter Slezak’s address to Marrickville Council on the issue, and found parts of it offensive.

    Without reservation, I also strongly support the inclusion of Slezak in the Limmud-Oz program, and incidentally believe the subject matter of his talk should not be censored in any way–certainly not with a proviso not to discuss Israel. I am glad to see that he will speak after all.

    If we cannot hear from a few representatives of the many vehement Jewish critics of Israel at Limmud-Oz, where we can at the same time hear and participate in serious debate within the community, what is Limmud for?

    Short of allowing incitement to violence–against or by Jews–I hope that Limmud-Oz will return to being a forum for the broadest possible spectrum of Jewish ideas, issues and culture. If the Limmud board had decided to exclude Dr Slezak–an academic and author, however controversial–they would have given in to the view that the Sydney Jewish community simply does not tolerate dissent.

    • Otto Waldmann says:

      in your very words “Jewish ideas” you have created a cathegory which defines certain distinct notions. As it happens, our friend Peter Slezak, quite intentionally, has long departed from those ideas and ideals and, as my good friend Paul Winter explained so bloody well, Peter Slezak is the repository and the propagateur of ANTI Jewish ideas, as Paul said, Spinoza’s biography notwithstanding.
      Let us just say that Peter is tollerated this time at Limud because, simply, he is a very nice and decent presence in manners, albeit this image being used also against our best interests !
      And we do NOT need to offer platforms of ideas we reject just so that who knows wants to have a public go at the respective shlemil. Just remember, Peter knows too well that 99.9% of HIS community has been disagreeing with him and his unchanged mantra for some DECADES now and he also knows too well why and how, and , look, NOTHING has changed at the bloke. So, why perpetuate an irritant, only because some OTHERS want us to be………..iritated !
      I would accept Slezak’s presence only because we have been largely innoculated by the stuff he is peddling, but let’s not get carried away and let’s read again and again what Paul Winter is telling us.
      Slezak is not contributing to anything positive to the Jewish community and, in teh final wash, we could live WITH the blame of NOT being so bloody ALL encompassing, just like EVERYBODY ELSE. By doing all this” all inclusive” stuff we are not better than the others, just a bit better looking as proud freiers.

  2. Paul Winter says:

    The Limmud’s board ahould keep in mind that its role is to enlighten and intellectually stimulate Jews. A presenter like Slezak will stimulate the majority of Jews only viscerally. Nothing he says has any relevance to Jews. Talking about long dead Jews who took opposite stances to the mainstream is merely a figleaf for his own stance. Anything he says will be tainted by his political views. HIs political views place him outside the house of Israel and into Dar el Islam’s far left supporters.

    Limmud’s directors confuse open mindedness with open headedness. Academic freedom does not extend to providing a stage for you enemies. To highlight my point, not only would a member of the Zionist Federation not be invited to address an audience in Sheikh Faiz Mohammed’ centre, but a Zionist would not be given a hearing at a BDS rally or at a protest against the Mohammed video.

  3. Otto Waldmann says:

    Some of the stuff above regarding the contents and dynamics of Limud is at least confusing, if not badly expressed. For starters, it is highly irrelevant the possible ( actually unknown ) number of people who would attend any session as a bassis for the session’s compatibility with the profile of the entire Limud spirit. Regarding Peter Slezak, his well known activities in the political field – NOT the academic -, his well publicised pro Palestinian passions are not just a phenomen of acceptable “varied” viewpoints, but a specific ANTI Israel activism which , quite often, has been intended by Peter Slezak as being representative of a Jewish identity. This is not something implicit or a redundant qualification, but a well designed strategy by Peter Slezak who constantly was presented visually as “Jewish” each time he made – quite willingly – statements in the circumstances of public demonstration organised by open enemies of Israel. One would correctly assume that the specific apellation would be requested by the “interviewed”, or , at least not objected. I won’t expand on the obvious extenstions.
    Secondly, the theme of this year’s lectures is, at least in the brief offered, identical to Slezak’s accepted and delivered lecture in 2009, which I attended. At the time, Peter Slezak was presenting within a propperacademic context the notion of the acceptability and, indeed, necessity, of dissent. He was extending the idea, starting with some of Plato’s dialogues, to Spinoza’s confrontation with and expulsion from the Amsterdam Jewish community for his ideas, considered as far as being “atheistic” at the time etc. Within the same context Slezak traversed even to Wittgenstein and his “unorthodox” stances in the philosophical ( actually logical) field, also at odds with the Judaic traditions/dogma. To that I personally intervened and mentioned that, in fact, Wittgenstein was born a Catholic from both parents also born Catholics and died a Catholic and, as such, totally irrelevant to anything Jewish. ( true , shortly before his death Wittgenstein said that he regreted that he never admitted that he had Jewish ancestry ).
    Slezak’s thessis could be defined as a very transparent attempt at legitimising dessent within a community which is seen as a tightly “closed” club, where tollerance of divergent views is considered unacceptably hostile. Thus, the very rejection Peter Slezak has suffered at the hands of his own community – see even the rejection of his proposed lectures at the last Limud, 2011 – as well as the blocked access to certain Jewsih media outlets ( that he told me personally ), finds in his lectures a legitimate platform of expression. This also serves as a general proposition that objections to matters Jewish/Israeli, as specifically known at the same Peter Slezak, cannot be justified, if his arguments would be accepted. In any case, the arguments demand a platform, and Peter Slezak considers a “inner” coommunal platform as the best venue.
    My problem is not whather Peter Slezak should express his views, well articulated and in a most decent fashin/style. My discomfort is with the “universal” accptance of dissent as a necsaary exercise, one which is organic to the well-being of any communal body. Briefl and finally, perhaps our Jewish community can function much better WITHOUT extreme liberties, even if part of the universal liberty of self expression.

  4. Ben says:

    Please re-read this sentence – you have completely got the first sentence factually wrong – he WILL be presenting.

    “In spite of media reports that Jewish philosopher Peter Slezak’s participation at this year’s Limmud-Oz in Sydney due to alleged breaches in his agreement, the organisers have issued s statement clearly denying that Slezak will present at the event.”

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