Statement on disinviting Leah Levane from the Greenbelt 2019 programme by Greenbelt Festival
Wednesday 21 August, 2019
Greenbelt has taken the decision to dis-invite Leah Levane (Co Chair of Jewish Voice for Labour) from one of its panel conversations at its festival this weekend. The panel conversation was on eschatology (see note 1 below) and was designed to be a playful and imaginative conversation about the stories our different faith traditions have schooled in us about the way the future will unfold and what these views mean for the way we live together in the present.
We are not afraid of inviting speakers considered controversial in the mainstream Jewish community to Greenbelt and have platformed Marc Ellis and Mark Braverman from the States, Jeff Halper from Israel and Robert Cohen from the UK in the past. (As well as many other more mainstream Jewish voices, like Rabbi Jonathan Wiitenberg, Rabbi Hershel Gluck and Rabbi Shoshana Gelfand from the UK.)
However, given the febrile nature of the debate around anti-semtism within the Labour Party in the UK at the moment – and the fact that we have more Jewish contributors on the bill and Jewish families in our audience this weekend than ever before – we reached a view that, on balance, Leah’s presence on the bill would draw too much attention away from the rich history and wider Jewish conversation that we have had the privilege of fostering over the years, continue to foster this year, and hope to grow in the future.
So, because of a whole web of delicate, inter-related issues and programming that we’re staging over the the weekend (see note 2 below), we reached the point where we recognised that a disproportionate amount of attention would have been focussed in Leah’s direction, on this particular panel, and on our decision to include her – and away from a range of other programming we have planned for this weekend. On balance, we do not think this attention is fair to our wider programme, to the other Jewish contributors and guests we have with us this weekend, to Leah herself, and to those expressing their concerns from outside of the event – to whom we would not be able to afford adequate time in terms of listening and nuanced explanations in the short time we have before the festival opens.
In disinviting her, Greenbelt must make it clear that Leah was not coming as a representative or spokesperson for the Jewish community in the UK. She had been invited as one voice onto panel; as a lively and interesting contributor; as someone whose passionate and contrary voice in the face of the prevailing narrative in the UK we considered would be interesting to include. We would also say that disinviting Leah on this occasion does not signal that Greenbelt will no longer invite “alternative” Jewish speakers. We will.
For this panel conversation, this year, we are fortunate that Rabbi Debbie Young Somers – who is with us all weekend as a programme contributor and camping at the festival with her family – has kindly agreed to sit in on the conversation to contribute her Jewish perspective.
1. This is the way the eschatological panel conversation for this weekend was billed:
SATURDAY, SHELTER, 2.00 PM
EVENT HORIZON: HOW THE WAY FAITH SEES THE FUTURE AFFECTS US ALL IN THE PRESENT
The world’s religions have stories about the way the future will go. Those different stories, and how literally we take them, can have profound implications for our living together in the present. Join a panel of people from different faith traditions and backgrounds (religious, cultural, secular) — and an agnostic — as together they look forward to the present.
With Moeen Yaseen (Global Vision, independent Islamic think tank), Rachel Searle (expert on William Blake and the relevance of Jerusalem), Leah Levane (co-chair of Jewish Voice for Labour), Clive Menzies (Critical Thinking) and chaired by longterm Greenbelter and Economics Professor Simon Mouatt.
It will now include Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers.
SUNDAY, SHELTER, 2.00 PM
Young laureates from this year’s 21 for 21 Programme share an honest discussion about the joys and challenges of interfaith work. With Georgia May (Programme Director at Rose Castle Foundation), Arzoo Ahmed (Physics and Medieval Arabic Thought graduate from Oxford and currently completing a philosophy masters in the ethics of science and technology at King’s College London), Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers (Community Educator for Reform Judaism). And special guests Katharine Crew (university interfaith practitioner), Rev Heston Groenewald (from multi-faith west Leeds where he spends almost as much time in mosques as in churches) and Ruth Edmonds (a first year ordinand at the Queens’ foundation and previously involved in an interfaith IFTAR with liberal Muslim group City Circle)
Chaired by Dr. Bilal Hasan (creative director of British Muslim TV).
In assoc. with Coexist House
SUNDAY, TABLE, 6.30 PM
MAKING MATZA. BRIDGING DIVIDES.
Rabbis Debbie Young-Somers and Gary Somers
You can buy the crunchy stuff from Yorkshire, or you can join foodies Debbie Young-Somers and her husband Gary Somers as they bake soft Iraqi-style Matza (probably closer to what actually left Egypt with the Exodus) and prepare Charoset (sweet sticky stuff eaten at seder with Matza). Hear their unusual story and discover Matza — and its importance to Jewish communities the world over.
Debbie is a Reform Rabbi and Gary is a newly ordained Orthodox Rabbi.
MONDAY, SHELTER, 11.00 AM
SCRIPTURE AND VIOLENCE: CHALLENGING ASSUMPTIONS
Join in a ’Scriptural Reasoning’ session where we will explore the assumptions around passages in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim sacred texts that might seem to incite the very violence and hatred we are working in good faith to counter and combat today.
With the Cambridge Inter-faith Programme, Rose Castle Foundation and Coexist House.
Session lasts 90 minutes
3. Greenbelt will continue its decades-long commitment to spotlighting and platforming Palestinian speakers and artists at the festival as we call for peace, reconciliation and full equal rights for all Palestinians and Israelis.