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Op-eds

Limmud needs to have the courage of its convictions

  • Howard Feldman 2018
The interesting thing about the Limmud-BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) debacle of last week was that it achieved what Limmud strives for. It created dialogue, and had the community engaging in debate that challenged and confronted.
by HOWARD FELDMAN | Aug 10, 2018

It all started when it emerged that Limmud had invited three BDS speakers to present at Limmud in the Hood in Cape Town. Letters were written, radio interviews were held, apologies were sort-of offered, and invitations were withdrawn.

For Limmud, it was enormously challenging. For the community, it was frustratingly perplexing, and for me, it was conflicting and uncomfortable.

It was uncomfortable because I believe in the value of free speech. I believe in constructive debate, and I believe in having the conversations we so often are too afraid to have.

I have hosted Zapiro on my show; I support Deep Fried Man because of his talent, even though I disagree with his perspectives on Israel; and I employ the hashtag #NoSafeSpace on my site.

I would even be willing to have BDS on my radio show.

What should naturally follow is the question why I supported the cancellation of the BDS speakers from the Limmud programme? My reasons were as follows:

  • BDS is not an organisation that encourages debate. It is the very opposite, in fact it shuts down dialogue in any way it can;
  • BDS employs intimidation tactics as a matter of course, resorting to death threats in order to achieve its goals; and
  • I have never been allowed to engage with it, even though I have tried. I have been blocked by the organisation on Twitter. Despite some years ago reaching out to the BDS leadership personally to try and create some form of dialogue, I was never allowed [by them] to do so.

BDS is not a humanitarian movement. If it was, it would have criticised Hamas at least once for its behaviour. Hamas routinely deprives Palestinians of the most basic human rights.

If BDS were a humanitarian organisation, it would engage constructively with both Israel and the Palestinians to try and broker peace. It would be working actively with both sides to further its so-called goals, and it would understand that Hamas wants to rid Israel of all Jews.

That the three Jews invited to Limmud have chosen BDS as part of their journey is not our concern. Every person has the right to travel any road that they wish, as long as they don’t infringe on the rights of others. But that doesn’t mean that we need to invite them into “the tent”. It doesn’t mean that we need to award them the courtesy that they don’t award us, and it doesn’t mean that we need to be naïve and not see the movement for what it is. We should also not allow the fact that the three participants are Jewish to confuse us.

An ambiguous statement made by Limmud was that the invitation was “too much for the SA community”. It did not clarify what this meant, and my sense is that Limmud was not comfortable with withdrawing the invitation.

Its language was vague and very careful, which is always cause for further thought. What that means (to me) is that as much I support Limmud, and as much as I would be willing to participate in its events, I would still appreciate a clear message as to where Limmud draws the line, and where it does not.

I urge Limmud to do so. I urge it to be unafraid to stand by its convictions, even if they are unpopular, and even if some of us disagree.

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