A chapter of J Street U, a student group that has sparked controversy on other college campuses because some see it as too critical of Israel, has been formed at Princeton without friction. J Street U is the student-organizing arm of J Street, a left-of-center lobbying group that advocates a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestine dilemma and was founded in 2008 by Jeremy Ben-Ami ’84.
J Street U, which has more than 60 chapters on campuses nationwide, has met with resistance from Jewish groups at other colleges, including Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of California, Berkeley. It has been criticized for hosting speakers who find fault with Israeli policies.
Most J Street U chapters are affiliated with Hillel, the world’s largest Jewish student organization. But some Hillel chapters have declined to co-sponsor events with J Street U, said Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen ’15, who started the Princeton chapter in late 2012 and serves on J Street U’s national student board. Hillel does not sponsor speakers who it says seek to harm Israel.
Princeton’s chapter hasn’t sparked conflict because “people at Princeton are not so confrontational,” Cohen said.
J Street U is applying for affiliation with the Center for Jewish Life, Princeton’s Hillel, “to open up the conversation within the Jewish community about Israel,” Cohen said. CJL Executive Director Rabbi Julie Roth said, “We embrace J Street U,” though the question of affiliation had not yet been decided by the CJL board.
On Nov. 19, Ben-Ami spoke at Princeton about reaching a two-state solution. More than 250 people attended.
With 25 active members — about half of whom are not Jewish — J Street U’s Princeton chapter holds biweekly education programs and discussions and conducts advocacy campaigns. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict engenders fierce debate all over the world, but “we welcome these hard discussions,” said Kyle Dhillon ’16, a Sikh student who is the group’s advocacy chairman.
“For decades, the establishment view was that to be pro-Israel was to support every single policy of the Israeli government,” Cohen said. But critiquing some of Israel’s actions and advocating for Palestinians is not anti-Israel, he maintained. “If I really care about Israel, I’m going to speak out.”