Academic’s visit divides Jewish groups

The following story by Andrew West appears in today’s Sydney Morning Herald:

A leading Jewish publication stands accused of censorship after cancelling an advertisement for a series of lectures to be delivered by a visiting Israeli human rights campaigner.

The publisher of The Australian Jewish News, Robert Magid, confirmed that he had pulled an ad promoting the speaking tour of Jeffrey Halper, a Jewish Israeli professor who campaigns against the bulldozing of Palestinian homes.

Mr Magid said he did not know Professor Halper – or anything about his work with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions – but had refused to publish the ad because “I don’t like the crowd who are bringing him out”.

“I am familiar with them,” Mr Magid said. “They use their Judaism to bash other Jews and issues associated with the Jewish community.”

Three dissident Jewish groups – Jews Against the Occupation, Independent Australian Jewish Voices and the Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine – have sponsored Professor Halper’s tour, which began in Melbourne yesterday.

A spokeswoman for the tour organisers, Vivienne Porzsolt, said ads had already been designed and placed on the page of this week’s edition of the News. “Then the advertising manager told me he had been instructed to say the ad had been pulled and they did not have to give a reason,” she said.

“My feeling is that the powerbrokers want to restrict information to the Jewish community because they don’t want alternative voices heard on the Israel issue.”

Professor Halper, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, was arrested last year after he visited the Gaza strip, even though, as the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported, he declined to meet leaders of the governing Hamas.

Professor Halper was due to speak at the Emanuel Synagogue in Woollahra on March 23, but the Herald understands his planned visit upset some members of the congregation and the event has been cancelled.

The synagogue’s executive director, Allan Glazerman, said Professor Halper was scheduled to address a group of 10 to 12 congregants as part of a workshop series called “Our Jewish Story”.

“Somehow the event mushroomed from a small class to a community-wide forum so the executive members have decided to cancel the presentation,” he said.

Professor Halper will instead deliver lectures at Macquarie University and the University of NSW.

One senior member of the Emanuel Synagogue said the congregation was divided over the event. “We have a deep commitment to free speech and many members of the peace and social justice groups attend this shul,” she said. “But other members were very worried about what the professor might say.”

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