Portrait of Israeli Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Hotovely. (Miriam Alster/Flash90) (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Tzipi Hotovely

Hillel International and Princeton Hillel regret canceling Tzipi Hotovely’s talk, calling it a “mistake” that was “an isolated incident.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely has just finished a mini-speaking tour on three campuses in the Metropolitan NY area – Columbia, New York University, and Princeton. The first two appear to have gone smoothly, but not at Princeton.

As she explained on the eve of her departure last week, Hotovely went to meet pro-Israel activists, discuss the challenges radical Islam poses to the West, and fight anti-Israel propaganda. “I come with a strong message that peace has not yet been achieved because of incitement and a generation of young Palestinians who were not educated to hope for it,” she said.

The incitement she mentioned was a direct cause of Hotovely’s speech being temporarily cancelled Monday evening, the night before it was scheduled to take place. The university’s Alliance of Jewish Progressives (AJP) had sent a letter to the campus newspaper protesting her appearance, calling Hotovely a “racist” for her opposition to a Palestinian state as well as for her conviction that the entire Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people. The pro-Palestinian group stated that by inviting Hotovely, the Center for Jewish Life, known as Princeton Hillel, was violating its own official policy to deny sponsorship to such people who “promote racism or hatred of any kind.” The letter was signed by organizations such as J Street U Princeton and the Princeton Committee on Palestine as well as dozens of individual students.

On Tuesday, Princeton Hillel’s executive director, Rabbi Julie Roth, wrote that she had “decided to indefinitely postpone the program… until we can properly vet the program through our Israel Advisory Committee.”

Denying Freedom to Hear Different Views

The deputy foreign minister angrily responded in a letter, stating, “You are denying the basic freedom of students to hear different points of views, to question, challenge and think for themselves…. Furthermore, by agreeing to the demands of radical voices you are silencing the voice of Israeli democracy.”

The temperature quickly cooled, however, as Princeton’s Chabad rabbi, Eitan Webb, stepped up to host the event – at its original venue and time. The audience in fact included Rabbi Roth and members of the AJP, which had meanwhile been accused of attempted censorship due to its petition.

In its defense, AJP released a statement, saying that all they had wanted was to highlight the Hillel’s “systematic silencing of leftist voices on campus through uneven application of its ostensibly neutral Israel policy.” They even added that they “appreciated the opportunity to engage in respectful disagreement and lively discussion with MK Hotovely and look forward to continuing the conversation in the future.”

‘A Fascinating Event’

Hotovely herself thanked Chabad for hosting her speech, calling it a “fascinating” event.

Finally, in a letter to The Jerusalem Post Wednesday, Hillel International’s CEO, Eric Fingerhut, and Rabbi Roth apologized for canceling the deputy foreign minister’s talk at the university’s Hillel House, calling it a “mistake” that was “an isolated incident”, as seen by the fact that it was Hillel that hosted Hotovely at NYU and Columbia.

“We are also proud to work for a movement that when, amid the pressures and realities of today’s campus life, we make a mistake, we acknowledge it, learn from it and strive to do better next time,” they wrote.

By: Batya Jerenberg, United with Israel