Limmud has the reputation of being unbalanced on the Left. I think that this reputation is undeserved. It is true that, occasionally, Zionist speakers have been maltreated: one must mention the blatant dis-invitation of Tuvia Tenenbom in 2015.
However, as a rule, there is no censorship at Limmud for voices from the Right.
Let us remember the packed session on “Alternatives to the two States solution” by Yshai Fleisher (2016), or the 2013 masterful debate between Yisrael Medad (from Shiloh) and the spoke-person of “Breaking the Silence”. The following year the non-Zionist organisation sent another representative, probably because of the not brilliant performance of the former.
Limmud offers many possibilities to those willing to venture in territories of the Zionist map beyond the boundaries set up by the like of The Guardian.
Unfortunately, this pluralistic spirit is under attack from the Far Left. Last year a group of militants had heckled the sessions held by Harry Markham, director of the secular Zionist organisation Herut.
Remember? The British voters have just served a tough reality check to these devotees of Jeremy Corbyn; they were already planning to take over British Jewish institution and impose their anti-Zionist agenda. Their frustration was palpable; they felt they had to impose to someone their variation of “gentler kinder politics” via censoring and no-platforming. Poor Herut, Limmud first-timer, was the designed victim.
Thankfully, the organisers have done their best to minimise the planned disruptions. The Herut sessions went on as planned. On social media, unsurprisingly, the hecklers kept on boasting and threatening for the following months. I spotted some noise in April, four months after the event. It would not be surprising if they were still at it. They like to give the impression of acting as a youth gang, claiming that Limmud is “their territory” whose access must be forbidden to the Zionists they dislike.
Pointless. Herut will be at Limmud back this year. Limmudnicks will have the opportunity to learn about the secular nationalist Zionist movement; that by the way in Israel in the 50s and 60s has consistently opposed the curfew imposed on Arab villages by the Labour Government.
But the practitioners of cancel culture have decided to aim higher. To their horror, this year, Limmud will include an interview by Colin Schindler to the Israeli Ambassador Tzipi Hotovely. The Israeli Ambassador at a Jewish conference. What is the problem? one may ask. Several Israeli ambassadors have taken part to many previous editions of Limmud. This year should not be an exception.
Nevertheless, fury and outrage are poured generously on social media and elsewhere. The first woman Ambassador in the history of Israel-UK relation is deemed unfit to her role by a small clique of mainly anti-Zionist extremists.
From what one gathers in such an unpleasant noise, the problem is the political affiliation of Ambassador Hotovely. She belongs to a more moderate and pragmatic faction than the other visitors of Limmud from the Right: their inclusion did not upset anyone, but things must have changed.
Or maybe these activists are afraid that some member of their tribe may defeat if exposed to a different narrative? If so, well: one wonders why they want to be part of Limmud, after all, given that its main value is Diversity. The mission statement of Limmud is clear: “We value the rich diversity among Jews, and so we seek to create cross-communal and inter-generational experiences”.
Anyway, political considerations should be beyond the point. Ambassador Hotovely had made clear that she aims to be “Ambassador for all Jews”. She knows how to keep her politics separate from her role. Hotovely’s predecessor, Mark Regev, enchanted more than one audience telling of his youth militancy in the Socialist Zionist movements, at a time when they were not in tune with the Israeli Government. He has been given -rightly- an enormous credit regarding his capacity to keep personal politics separated from the institutional role. Why should be Tzipi Hotovely treated differently?
Thankfully, the organisers have not bowed to pressures, no matter how well connected the hecklers were. They made me proud to be a British Jew, part of the wonderful and pluralistic mosaic, of which Limmud is such a precious and important component. The Schindler-Hotovely session promises to be one of the most interesting of Limmud this year. Let’s not forget what a remarkable scholar of Prof. Colin Schindler is. He authored masterful studies on the history of Zionist Right.
And many good wishes to Ambassador Hotovely, during whose tenure I hope there will be many other moments of dialogue and passionate conversations, at Limmud and elsewhere.