Princeton Hillel Cancels Speech by Top Israeli Diplomat, Drawing Criticism and an Apology
Israel’s deputy foreign minister was nearly prevented from speaking at Princeton University on Monday after the local Hillel chapter abruptly cancelled her planned speech — prompting condemnation from Israeli officials, a swift intervention by the school’s Chabad and, ultimately, an apology from Hillel International.
Princeton Hillel’s Center for Jewish Life (CJL) first reversed its decision to host Tzipi Hotovely on Sunday, following objections from the Alliance of Jewish Progressives (AJP), a student group at Princeton dedicated to “combining Jewish tradition with progressive social action.”
“Hotovely’s work causes irreparable damage to the prospects of a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” AJP wrote in a letter published in The Daily Princetonian. “We firmly reject the CJL’s choice to host a racist speaker like Hotovely while it continues to quiet progressive voices.”
In response, CJL announced that it would “postpone” Hotovely’s planned speech until it could be properly vetted by the group’s Israel Advisory Committee.
“We regret the last-minute change and apologize to Ms. Hotovely for the inconvenience,” Rabbi Julie Roth, CJL’s executive director, wrote in a letter to the Israeli Consulate in New York.
After receiving notice of the cancellation, the Israeli Consulate called the Chabad House at Princeton with a request for assistance on Sunday night — which Chabad met by offering to host Hotovely on campus.
“We learn by having conversations,” Rabbi Eitan Webb, director of the Chabad House, told The Algemeiner.
“Personally, I am very proud of my brothers and sisters in Israel,” Webb continued. “They live in a complex region surrounded by hostility. We need to work toward understanding their circumstances and show support. We do that by listening. That is why I am proud to be the host of MK Hotovely.”
Some 80 students attended the talk, Hotovely said in an interview with Israeli media on Monday, and “asked excellent questions and listened attentively.”
She observed that during her tour of US campuses — which also includes stops at Columbia University and New York University — she found that anti-Israel sentiment was not only stoked by “external BDS organizations that are working with pro-Palestinian groups.”
There is also “a very, very serious problem with Jewish organizations that think they support human rights organizations but are in fact contributing to the delegtimization of Israel,” Hotovely said.
“Those who really blocked my way to the lecture was a group of Jewish students who are actually human rights activists for Palestinians, and said that because of the positions I stand for — and because of the settlements — the traditional right-wing positions in Israel that I am very proud to hold, I cannot speak on campus,” she added.
The episode drew criticism on Twitter, with Dan Shapiro — a former US ambassador to Israel — calling it a “mistake.”
“She’s the Dep. Foreign Minister,” Shapiro added. “Don’t like her views? Let her speak & respectfully tell her why.”
“Amb., we agree this was a mistake,” Matthew Berger, a spokesperson for Hillel International, wrote in response. “Princeton Hillel has apologized to MK Hotovely. As you know, Hillels are great advocates for Israel.”
A number of Israeli officials also voiced their displeasure over the turn of events on social media, including MK Yair Lapid, chairman of the centrist Yesh Atid party.
“The cancellation of Hotovely’s speech at Princeton University proves again that ‘progressive’ liberals only want to hear themselves,” Lapid wrote.
Kulanu MK Michael Oren, deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and a former Israeli ambassador to Washington, tweeted, “I am ashamed that the Hillel at Princeton my alma mater denied Dep Min Hotovely the right to speak.”
Roth and Eric Fingerhut, president of Hillel International, responded on Tuesday to the criticism with an open letter apologizing for what transpired.
“Unfortunately, we did not treat the Israeli deputy foreign minister with the respect that her office deserves, and postponed the event,” the Hillel officials wrote. “This mistake was not caused by an effort to silence MK Hotovely. Indeed, Ms. Hotovely spoke at Columbia/Barnard Hillel last week and will be the guest of the Hillel at New York University tonight.”
“This is an isolated incident,” they added, “and Hillel International stands squarely behind the value of hearing from the Jewish state’s elected leaders.”