Hillel president apologizes to Hotovely for Princeton slight

At NYU, deputy foreign minister tells Eric Fingerhut that Monday’s surprise cancellation of her speech was ‘unacceptable’

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely speaking at New York University, November 7, 2017 (Aleksey Rosenfeld)
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely speaking at New York University, November 7, 2017 (Aleksey Rosenfeld)

The head of Hillel International on Tuesday apologized to Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, three days after the Princeton University branch of his Jewish campus organization canceled her speech there on short notice following pressure from a progressive Jewish group.

Eric Fingerhut personally expressed his regret over the incident when Hotovely delivered a talk at New York University, her office said in a statement.

“Deputy Minister Hotovely, who believes in cooperation with all Jewish organizations in America, explained to him what happened at Princeton was unacceptable, and there must not be an internal boycott against Israeli representatives,” the statement read, presumably referring to the fact that Hotovely was disinvited by a Jewish organization.

Meanwhile, Princeton’s Alliance of Jewish Progressives (AJP) — the group that pressured the Ivy League University’s Hillel to cancel Hotovely’s talk — defended itself against accusations it was seeking to stifle free speech on campus. Rather, the group said in a statement, it acted out frustration over the fact that many of the leftist speakers it would like hosted at Princeton Hillel, known as the Center for Jewish Life, are rejected for political reasons.

“We recognize that silencing of oppositional voices from both the left and the right is a real and frustrating issue on college campuses. However, we want to make clear that that is not — and has never been—our purpose,” it said.

Over the past three years, Princeton Hillel refused to sponsor Alliance of Jewish Progressives events with left-wing speakers, including members of the controversial Breaking the Silence group, the statement charged. But Hillel “initially chose not to apply the same standard of scrutiny to MK Tzipi Hotovely’s visit, and this was the focus of AJP’s protest,” its statement read.

“We disagree with this policy and its potential for unqualified censorship and want to point out the CJL’s hypocrisy in applying its policy only to left-wing speakers. By drawing attention to this policy over the past few days, we have tried to highlight its failures, not to increase censorship on campus.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely speaking at Princeton University, November 6, 2017 (courtesy)

Hotovely was scheduled to speak Monday night at the Center for Jewish Life as part of her current visit to the US, during which she is speaking about and handing out the Foreign Ministry’s new brochures on Israel at three top universities in the New York area.

Citing a recent article in The Times of Israel in which the deputy minister set out her plan to advocate her views on campus, as well as her hard-right positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, AJP sent a letter to the The Daily Princetonian campus newspaper protesting her scheduled appearance on campus.

It was signed by several campus organizations, including Princeton’s branch of J Street, and dozens of individual students.

“If the Center for Jewish Life claims to host speakers with diverse voices and opinions, it must subject all political views on Israel to the same standard of scrutiny,” the letter stated. “The CJL claims to be a home for all Jewish students on campus, and moreover claims to support open-minded dialogue about Israel. We firmly reject the CJL’s choice to host a racist speaker like Hotovely while it continues to quiet progressive voices.”

In its statement Tuesday, AJP said it never meant to censor Hotovely or get her speech canceled, but merely sought to highlight the Hillel’s “systematic silencing of leftist voices on campus through uneven application of its ostensibly neutral Israel policy.”

Ultimately, Chabad at Princeton sponsored Hotovely’s talk, which was attended by Hillel director Rabbi Julie Roth and members of AJP. “We listened politely as MK Hotovely denied the existence of Palestinian history and reiterated her recent statements that Reform and Conservative Jews have ‘emptied Judaism of substance,’” the progressive group said in its statement.

“We appreciated the opportunity to engage in respectful disagreement and lively discussion with MK Hotovely and look forward to continuing the conversation in the future.”

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