Controversial Israeli minister still speaks at Princeton after Hillel withdraws sponsorship

Students protested outside the talk

Israeli deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely spoke at Princeton University on Monday afternoon. Chabad at Princeton sponsored the event after the Center for Jewish Life, Princeton’s Hillel chapter, withdrew its sponsorship last night in response to student concerns.

The Alliance for Jewish Progressives, a group of Jewish students that usually takes a left-wing view on Israel issues, protested Hotovely for her “racist” statements against Palestinian statehood and argued that hosting her violated the CJL’s policy on Israel-related programming.

Hotovely, who is in the same party as the Prime Minister, has come under fire in the past for her belief that Israel should annex the West Bank.

“We expect as a matter of principle of the international community to recognise Israel’s right to build homes for Jews in their homeland, everywhere,” she said in May 2015, according to the Guardian. “This land is ours. All of it is ours.”

The CJL’s policy is to not “sponsor groups or speakers that, as a matter of policy or practice, foster an atmosphere of inclivity, intend to harm Israel, or promote racism or hatred of any kind.” Usually, a CJL committee has to approve the speakers that the AJP invites to campus; but the CJL did not follow that procedure for the student group that invited Hotovely.

In a letter to the editor posted on The Daily Princetonian website last night, AJP argued that Hotovely’s disregard of Palestinian claims to the land “implies that the CJL and its affiliated student groups support the decision to host Hotovely.”

(Disclaimer: the lead writer of this article is a member of AJP.)

About 15 protesters assembled in the lobby of the building before the speech, bearing signs. “End the occupation,” some said. “I believe in Palestinian history,” said another.

Rabbi Eitan Webb, who leads Princeton’s Chabad, introduced Hotovely and addressed students’ concerns over free speech.

“We bend over backwards to give free speech to all,” Webb said. “Asking difficult questions is a part of listening.”

Hotovely took questions from the audience, which filled every seat in the bowl classroom of the Lewis Library. A student accused Israel of being an “apartheid” state, which Hotovely denied.

“Why does America belong to Americans and Israel does not belong to Israelis?” she said. “Why?”

Hotovely said that Palestinians in other Arab countries should not be allowed to return to Israel, because there was never an independent Palestinian state, whereas there was previously a Jewish kingdom in the land of Israel.

“They should get full citizenship in Jordan, in Lebanon, in Egypt, wherever they are,” she said.

Gabi Swagel, a Princeton sophomore who organizes weekly Conservative services at the CJL, disagreed with a comment Hotovely made about different strains of Judaism. Conservative and Reform Jews, Hotovely said, are “erasing 3,000 years of history.”

“She clearly doesn’t know what conservative Judaism is supposed to be,” Swagel said.

(Alice Maiden contributed reporting and writing to this article.)

Princeton University