Opinion |

An Israeli Minister's Call to Boycott Princeton's Jewish Students Is Totally Wrong – and Nonsensical

Princeton's Center for Jewish Life was wrong to cancel an Israeli minister's visit. They apologized. When Israel works so hard against BDS, Michael Oren's call for Israeli officials to boycott them in retaliation makes no sense. He hasn't apologized

Daniel Kurtzer
Daniel Kurtzer
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Princeton University campus in Princeton, New Jersey, U.S.
Princeton University campus in Princeton, New Jersey, U.S.Credit: Craig Warga/Bloomberg
Daniel Kurtzer
Daniel Kurtzer

As a member of the faculty at Princeton University and an active participant in the activities of the university’s Center for Jewish Life, I was surprised and disappointed over the mini-crisis last week surrounding the visit by Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely.

As I was not advised of or consulted about either her visit or the subsequent postponement – effectively a cancellation – I have some standing to comment on the situation.

The decision to invite Minister Hotovely was the right one, as all elected members of the Israeli government are welcome to speak on our campus. Personal views of the invitee and/or Israeli policies should not figure in the decision to extend an invitation to speak.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely speaking at a Likud event in 2015. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

The process regarding the invitation was faulty, as it did not follow the Center for Jewish Life’s own procedures. The process also was lacking in not trying to situate the deputy minister’s visit within the context of a series of "Conversations about Peace" that I co-chair with another faculty member, that is designed to bring divergent views to the campus so as to stimulate mutually respectful dialogue.

The protest by some student groups on campus was also a legitimate expression of views and part of what constitutes respectful dissent. The students should have been invited to attend the speech and ask questions, or to protest peacefully outside the speech venue.

The decision to postpone/cancel the visit was wrong, plain and simple. Rabbi Julie Roth, the Center for Jewish Life’s director, regretted that decision almost immediately, as she told me on Monday morning after the fact.

By that time, however, the Israeli Consulate had already reached out to the university Chabad, which agreed to sponsor the talk at the originally scheduled time and venue. The speech took place with a full room and a few quiet protesters outside.

The following day, Tuesday, Rabbi Roth and Eric Fingerhut, head of Hillel International, wrote to publicly express regret for the mistaken decision to cancel the talk and reiterating the Center for Jewish Life’s open-door policy for elected Israeli officials. This apology should have been the end of the affair.

However, Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States and current minister in the Israeli government, then publicly called for Israeli officials to boycott Princeton.

This was totally wrong, and under no circumstances would this have made sense, certainly not after the Center for Jewish Life and Hillel apologized.

Israel works hard to prevent boycotts, and thus no Israeli official should be calling for a boycott of an institution designed to promote Jewish life on campus. Oren now must take the next step: To retract his call for a boycott. Indeed, an apology from him for even raising the idea would also be proper.

Michael Oren, formerly Israel's ambassador to the U.S., and currently Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Office. Washington, D.C. Aug. 15, 2012Credit: Bloomberg

The bottom line in this issue is clear: There are many lessons to learn from what happened last week, and I am confident the Center for Jewish Life will assimilate those lessons. I’m proud of the respectful atmosphere on the Princeton campus when discussing the Israel-Palestine dispute and am sure that this will continue when our series of "Conversations about Peace" welcomes former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Israeli Consul General Dani Dayan in the weeks ahead.

Daniel Kurtzer, a professor at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, served as the U.S. ambassador to Israel from 2001 to 2005.

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