The last-minute cancellation of a talk by a top Israeli foreign-affairs official landed Princeton’s Center for Jewish Life in the headlines last month, prompting a discussion about free speech and leading to an apology by the center’s director and the national Hillel CEO. The talk by Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, was hosted instead by Chabad House, another campus Jewish organization.
The CJL canceled the Nov. 6 lecture after student groups led by the Alliance of Jewish Progressives accused the CJL of violating its commitment not to sponsor speakers who “foster an environment of incivility, intend to harm Israel, or promote racism or hatred of any kind.” In a Nov. 5 letter to The Daily Princetonian, the Alliance argued that Hotovely “has repeatedly made racist statements” and that the policy has “served as a thinly veiled method to exclude left-wing voices.” Rabbi Julie Roth, CJL executive director, postponed the talk indefinitely, saying it had not been reviewed as required by the CJL’s Israel advisory committee.
In an op-ed published in The Jerusalem Post, Roth and Hillel CEO Eric Fingerhut said: “This was not a good-enough reason to postpone the event, and for that, we apologize.” The Alliance said in a statement that its members “appreciated the opportunity to engage in respectful disagreement and lively discussion” with Hotovely at the Chabad talk. The group said it looks forward to continuing the conversation, but that can happen “only if the CJL protects the free speech of both right- and left-wing members of the Jewish community.”
The CJL responded in a statement that it will “continue to ensure that diverse perspectives from across the Israeli political spectrum are heard on campus and that the State of Israel maintains its vital and cherished place within our CJL community.”