Princeton Jewish Student Center Bans Israeli Anti-occupation Group Breaking the Silence Exhibit

Center for Jewish Life cites 'sensitivities' stemming from proximity of event to Israel's Memorial Day to decision to refuse space to veterans' group exhibition

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A visitor looks at the exhibition 'Breaking the Silence' at the Kulturhaus Helferei in Zurich, June 8, 2015.
A visitor looks at the exhibition 'Breaking the Silence' at the Kulturhaus Helferei in Zurich, June 8, 2015.Credit: Reuters

The Center for Jewish Life at Princeton University denied space to the local chapter of J Street U for an exhibition created by the left-wing Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence.

The J Street U chapter decided to go forward with the exhibit, to be held Tuesday and Wednesday, in another campus space, despite the possibility of causing a rift with the Center for Jewish Life, or CJL, which is affiliated with Hillel International, the Daily Princetonian student newspaper reported.

“We do not take this step lightly,” J Street U Princeton wrote in a statement posted on Facebook. “Our relationship with the CJL is deeply important to us, and we consider the CJL and the Princeton Jewish community to be a home for us on campus. We want to continue to be a part of this community.”

Following a meeting with Rabbi Julie Roth, the center’s executive director, J Street U Princeton President Dylan Mittag told the Daily Princetonian that their “relationship is intact.”

“J Street will remain a CJL organization,” Mittag said.

J Street U has been affiliated with The Center for Jewish Life since 2014.

The center did not oppose J Street bringing the organization to speak on campus, Roth told the student newspaper.

“However, given the sensitivities related to the timing of the event overlapping with Yom Hazikaron, the day commemorating Israeli soldiers killed in battle and in terrorist attacks, and Yom Haatzmaut, the celebration of Israel’s Independence Day, we did not want to host the program in the building,” she said.

Breaking the Silence is an Israeli anti-occupation veterans’ group that collects and publicizes soldiers' testimonies. The photo exhibition it plans to bring to the Princeton campus includes soldiers’ testimonials and deals with the moral and strategic dilemmas that operating in the West Bank creates for the Israel Defense Forces.

“We specifically wanted to bring Breaking the Silence to the CJL because of these issues’ deep relevance to the Jewish and pro-Israel communities at Princeton,” the J Street U statement said.

Hillel International’s guidelines prohibit its chapters from partnering with or hosting organizations, groups or speakers that “deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders; Delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel; Support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions [BDS] against Israel; [or] exhibit a pattern of disruptive behavior towards campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.”

The center sponsored a group of students to attend the J Street national conference earlier this year and arranged for them to meet with J Street’s national president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, a Princeton graduate.

Roth said in an email to the campus newspaper that the center has been “engaged in a spirit of partnership” with J Street U-involved students and noted that her organization sponsored several of them on a trip to Israel and the West Bank, where they met with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

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