Canceling Israeli lawmaker’s speech was a ‘mistake,’ Hillel officials say


(JTA) — The head of Hillel International and the director of the Princeton Hillel said it was wrong to cancel the campus event featuring Israel’s deputy foreign minister and that the organization was not trying to silence her.

Tzipi Hotovely’s original talk scheduled for Monday night was canceled by Princeton Hillel due to objections by the campus chapter of the Alliance of Jewish Progressives, which claimed her hawkish views violated Hillel’s own guidelines on speakers who discredit Israel. But Princeton Chabad stepped in and agreed to host the event.

“Unfortunately, we did not treat the Israeli deputy foreign minister with the respect that her office deserves, and postponed the event,” Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of Hillel International, and Rabbi Julie Roth, executive director of the Princeton University Hillel, known as the Center for Jewish Life, wrote in an op-ed published Wednesday in The Jerusalem Post.

“We did this because [the event] had not been reviewed by the Center for Jewish Life’s Israel Advisory Committee, which is designed to review and facilitate a broad range of Israel programming throughout the year,” they wrote. “To be clear: This was not a good enough reason to postpone the event, and for that mistake, we apologize.”

Fingerhut and Roth acknowledged that the Princeton Hillel “should have engaged a broader range of students in this program from the beginning rather than right before the event, and we should have made a stronger case within our campus community that the event should go forward as planned.”

“This is an isolated incident – and Hillel International stands squarely behind the value of hearing from the Jewish state’s elected leaders,” the op-ed said.

The Alliance of Jewish Progressives had called on Hillel to cancel the event, alleging in the Princeton student newspaper that Hotovely “repeatedly” makes racist statements. In a statement issued Tuesday, the group said that “We recognize that silencing of oppositional voices from both the left and the right is a real and frustrating issue on college campuses. However, we want to make clear that that is not — and has never been — our purpose.”

The Alliance’s statement noted that the Center for Jewish Life has repeatedly used its Israel policy to scrutinize its proposed events and refused to sponsor events with several left-wing speakers. It said the center did not apply the “same standard of scrutiny” to the Hotovely event.

“Over the past two days, members of the American and Israeli media have mischaracterized our protest as an obstruction to free speech,” the statement said. “On the contrary, our intention was neither to censor MK Tzipi Hotovely nor to cancel the event, but to highlight the CJL’s systematic silencing of leftist voices on campus through uneven application of its ostensibly neutral Israel policy.

“We are now calling for a revision of the CJL’s Israel policy that will allow for open discourse within the campus Jewish community.”

Meanwhile, Israeli lawmaker Michael Oren, a Princeton alumnus, called on Israeli officials to boycott appearances at the university’s Hillel. He also called on fellow alumni not to donate to the Hillel and called for its director to be fired.

Oren, the deputy minister for diplomacy for the Kulanu party, earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in history and Middle East studies from Princeton.

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