Worrying and Limmud Oz

by roadsideservice

So, Limmud Oz has decided not to include a panel of speakers around Avigail Abarbanel’s collection of narratives Beyond Tribal Loyalties: Personal Stories of Jewish Peace Activists. Speakers included Sivan Barak, Peter Slezak, Viv Porzolt, Nicole Ehrlich, and the editor Avigail Abarbanel.

The Australian Jewish Democratic Society has responded in kind:

We view the decision by the Committee of Limmud Oz 2012 to prevent a panel “Beyond Tribal Loyalties – personal stories of Jewish peace activists” at this year’s Melbourne conference as a blatant act of political censorship.

Even though there are other panels featuring discussion on the Israel/Palestine conflict, this censorship follows a similar attempt at Limmud Oz in Sydney last year concerning a panel with a number of the same speakers.

The censorship goes against all the principles of the conference which are to engage in an exchange of ideas, which according to its website, have the following principles:

-Respects diverse Jewish expression
-Connects and engages -Communal and democratic
-Explores Australian Jewish identities
-Creating space for ideas and reflection
-Igniting activism
-Forum for Jewish dialogue

The act undertaken by the Committee–the names of which are not public–betrays these principles entirely and sends out a message that dissent is not acceptable, particularly when many of the views being expressed are precisely those being voiced in Israel itself. Serious questions have to be asked about the governance of Limmud Oz and its decision-making processes.

Furthermore, to censor the authors of a book, particularly in a university setting is a serious matter, and it is also a fiction to argue that Limmud Oz is a private community event or that it is not in direct association with Monash university. Limmud Oz markets itself as a major community event. In addition, the association between Limmud Oz and the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilization means that the Centre’s own academic independence is now severely compromised. Monash University has traditionally supported the principle of free speech and we cannot see how a conference held at Monash can pretend that it is supporting free speech when it is censoring dissenting ideas.

This culture of censorship within the Australian Jewish community is dangerous and only conveys the message that dissent will not be tolerated. This is a major freedom of speech issue for the Jewish community and the wider community concerned with a resolution of the Israel/Palestine conflict.”

The AJDS has started a statement/petition here, which you can, of course, sign.

I know this isn’t funny (perhaps I am confusing the bitterness of it) but there’s something so inane and perfect about a panel being banned by a small community for wanting to speak specifically about the struggles of speaking in a small community.

The desired panel is described thus:

Although Beyond Tribal Loyalties focuses on Jewish activism in the context of Israel- Palestine, I wanted it to be a statement about speaking out in general. I think that the challenges that Jewish activists face are no different from the challenges faced by anyone who considers speaking out. When people wish to speak out about an issue that isn’t yet recognised as a problem by the mainstream in their societies or communities, they face both internal and external struggles.

Initially when people spoke out about the rights of African Americans or Australian Aborigines, they were seen as radicals or extremists. The same happened to those who fought against slavery, for the right of women to vote and many other issues. Usually the marginalised or victim group is seen by the mainstream in an entirely negative light and those who support it as a bit crazy or even dangerous. But over time things change. Nowadays in the West we wouldn’t imagine a world where African Americans or Australian Aborigines are considered by law as less human than white people, where women are not allowed to vote or where slavery is legal or acceptable. But the initial challenge of speaking out for what one believes can be very hard. The resistance can come not only from the outside but also from the inside in the form of strong internal psychological opposition, inner conflict, fears and confusion about group loyalty and identity among other things.

(It isn’t, unfortunately, hard to “imagine a world where [Aboriginal people are] considered by law as less human than white people”, but this would be a digression).

In any case, Ghassan Hage comes to mind, as often he does in times like these.

People might use the language of ‘caring’ and ‘worrying’ in an undifferentiated way, but I think that worrying, as a kind of affective investment in the nation, is radically different from what I believe caring implies. Worrying is…a narcissistic affect. You worry about the nation when you feel threatened – ultimately, you are only worrying about yourself. Caring about the nation…is a more intersubjective affect. While one always cares primarily about oneself, caring also implies keeping others within one’s perspective of care. Most importantly, caring does not have the paranoid, defensive connotations that worrying has.

Societies are mechanisms for the distribution of hope, and that the kind of affective attachment (worrying or caring) that a society creates among its citizens is intimately connected to its capacity to distribute hope. The caring society is essentially an embracing society that generates hope among its citizens and induces them to care for it. The defensive society, such as the one we have in Australia today, suffers from a scarcity of hope and creates citizens who see threats everywhere. It generates worrying citizens and a paranoid nationalism. This brings us to the final problematic around which the issue of caring has been thought about and articulated: the institutionalisation of a culture of worrying at the expense of a culture of caring…

Hage, G. (2003) Against Paranoid Nationalism: searching for hope in a shrinking society, Annandale, p.3

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