We were deeply disturbed to learn that Princeton University’s Hillel house canceled an address planned by Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, on Monday, the day before she was set to speak. According to a report in The Jerusalem Post, the decision to withdraw the invitation came in response to a petition from the Alliance of Jewish Progressives, a student group that accused Hotovely of being a racist. Hotovely, a self-described “religious right-winger,” is opposed to a Palestinian state and cites religious texts in asserting Israel’s claim to disputed land.
Fortunately, Princeton Chabad stepped in and sponsored the event.
The critics cited a pamphlet Hotovely has been distributing during her current campus tour that is alleged to show “blatant disregard to any Palestinian claim to the land and amounts to little more than propaganda.” The argument for canceling the talk was based on Hillel’s programming policy, no doubt written primarily with anti-Israel groups in mind, which states that it will not sponsor speakers “who promote racism or hatred of any kind.”
Rabbi Julie Roth, executive director of the Princeton Hillel, issued a statement expressing appreciation for “the students who pushed us to make sure we are consistent in the application of our process for program sponsorship.” It added that the program will be reviewed by the group’s Israel Advisory Committee, “and we will refine our procedures to learn from this experience.”
What we have learned from this experience is that the Jewish tradition of pursuing truth through vigorous discussion and debate, as exemplified by the sages of the Talmud, has been abandoned here. Too many students appear unwilling to listen to views that counter their own. Just last week, in an address sponsored by the NYU Hillel, Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks asserted that “you can’t have justice unless you hear the other side.”
In a letter to Rabbi Roth, Hotovely said she was “shocked” by the cancellation, noting that “you are infringing on the fundamental academic freedom of the students,” and not allowing them to “hear different points of view, to question, challenge and think for themselves.”
Rabbi Roth’s statement: “We look forward to continued robust and healthy debate around Israel in our community.”
But there is nothing healthy about Jewish censorship — from the left or the right.
Editor’s Note: Hillel International and Rabbi Roth issued an apology to Hotovely as we went to press.