Speaker’s Jewishness not the issue, BDS intolerance is
Dr Miriam Maltz, Durban
However sympathetic one may be to Laura Phillips’ “distress” at her brother being disinvited to Limmud, the “dismay and disappointment” voiced by many attending the Limmud session in Cape Town (as described in this article) seems to be an emotional, unconsidered response, however understandable.
Likewise, the focus on Jeremy Phillips’s character is actually misdirected. His regular attendance at shul, attesting to the fact that he is “a good Jewish boy”, and the fact that three generations of his family, including his great, great grandfather, attended this shul, are actually irrelevant. The real issue here is not the character of Jeremy Phillips, but the nature of the anti-Zionist organisation to which he belongs – namely, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).
This brings us to BDS and the crucial way that it differs from Limmud. As a regular participant in Limmud, I can attest to the fact that Limmud actively encourages a wide diversity of views on religious, political, economic, cultural, and life-style topics. There is discussion and disagreement; there is passionate debate, heated argument, and panels on controversial issues. But there is an invisible line drawn, one tacitly acknowledged by all who attend Limmud: people listen to one another even when they disagree. Civility and tolerance of disparate views are sine qua non.
Not so with BDS. This is an organisation that attempts to suppress all other views by any means available. Both in South Africa and the United States, blackmail, threats, bullying, intimidation, and acts of violence are the means used to enforce its message. Cultural events, university lectures, public talks, even student gatherings are illegally disrupted by pushing and shoving, shouting and screaming as members attempt to drown out those speaking or performing. Should members of this organisation be given a platform?
In my view, the answer is an emphatic “No!” – not in a Jewish school, not in any Jewish communal organisation.