In the latest installment of the great Sabra hummus debate, the Center for the Jewish Life has stepped into the fray over the referendum, up for a vote on this week’s USG ballot.
An e-mail sent Monday morning from the CJL’s official account, titled “Warning: Israel impacted by USG referendum,” expressed concern that students may not fully understand the political motivations behind the referendum. It encouraged students to “make an informed choice, understanding that the passage of the referendum would allow the referendum’s sponsors to make a strong political statement about Israel.”
The message, which included a link to the election ballot, was sent to students who receive the CJL weekly newsletter. The e-mail was signed by Rabbi Julie Roth, who is executive director of the CJL and one of the University’s Jewish chaplains, and five members of the CJL student board, including co-presidents Kerry Brodie ’12 and Mendy Fisch ’11. It was only intended to be signed by Roth, Brodie and Fisch, the three said in a joint e-mail to The Daily Princetonian on Monday evening.
Fisch is also the executive opinion editor for the ‘Prince,’ though he has not participated in the editing of any content published in the newspaper about the referendum since entering the debate.
Monday morning’s e-mail from the CJL listed Jeffrey Mensch ’11, president of Tigers for Israel, as the contact person for further information and provided links to news articles, an editorial and anti-referendum columns published in the ‘Prince’. One column was authored by Samson Schatz ’13, a vice president of TFI. The e-mail did not include any links to material in support of the referendum.
If passed by the student body, the referendum would ask Dining Services to provide an alternative to Sabra hummus in University retail locations. The referendum, sponsored by the Princeton Committee on Palestine, is part of a larger movement to boycott Sabra products on the basis that The Strauss Group, which owns 50 percent of Sabra Dipping Company, supports the Israeli Defense Forces at large and its Golani Brigade in particular. Members of the Golani Brigade have been accused of human rights abuses against Palestinians. Voting on the referendum ends Wednesday at noon.
While much of the student body has expressed apathy on the issue, media outlets ranging from The Los Angeles Times to The Jerusalem Post to Fox News have covered the debate.
In an interview following the release of the statement, Roth said she did not intend to tell students how to vote. She explained that she signed the e-mail “as the director of an organization that has as part of its mission to be a pro-Israel voice on campus and as part of my role as adviser to the presidents of our organization.”
Roth added that the CJL is currently working on “how to define the pro-Israel aspect of our mission in ways that are fair, that are as inclusive as possible, that are current with the full range of Jewish students today about Israel.”
Several students expressed concern at the CJL’s public stance on a political issue.
In an e-mail to Roth, Ben Weisman ’11 wrote: “As a member of the Jewish community on campus, a supporter of Israel, and someone who believes in the CJL’s commitment to ‘creating a community that is welcoming of all people’ and the Office of Religious Life’s dedication to supporting ‘religious traditions in the practice and expression of their faith,’ I was dismayed and deeply disappointed by the e-mail’s direct political message and its implications for the nature of Jewish life on campus.”
Weisman continued, “This morning’s e-mail excluded all Jews with different opinions on Israel from the campus’s Jewish community. As all are aware, one can be an observant Jew while still criticizing Israel’s regime or policies.”
Weisman is a member of the ‘Prince’ editorial board, which published an editorial urging students to vote against the referendum.
Yoel Bitran ’11, president of PCP, said that while PCP has no official position on the CJL’s statement, “I’m disappointed as a Jewish Princeton student because I’ve always felt that — and that it’s well understood — that the CJL is supposed to be a nonpolitical, nonpartisan, neutral safe space that represents all Jewish students regardless of political convictions. This e-mail clearly doesn’t line up with that image.”
He noted that Jewish students belong to both PCP and TFI.
In a joint e-mail statement to the ‘Prince’ on Monday evening, Brodie and Fisch said: “The student board presidents believe that the referendum, which singles out Sabra hummus and is part of a broader boycott movement, is intended to make a strong political statement about Israel. Not saying anything when the world is watching the outcome of this referendum would, we believe, run counter to the CJL’s mission.”
The CJL’s mission statement lists Israel as a pillar of its organization, along with community, Jewish learning, holiday celebrations, leadership and social justice. It explains that the CJL works to “cultivate connections” between students and Israel.
While it speaks to creating a Jewish community on campus, the mission statement does not include any commitment to representing the full range of Jewish student opinion.
Until today, organizational opposition to the referendum has been the domain of Tigers for Israel, a student group affiliated with the CJL.
Addie Lerner ’11, a vice president of TFI, said in an e-mail statement: “The CJL let us know in advance about their e-mail to the group and we were very supportive.” She added, “We hope that the e-mail encourages more students to vote against the referendum.”
Brodie and Fisch said in their statement that the CJL is still meant to serve the entire student body, irrespective of individual politics. “Any student interested in Jewish life, whether consuming or boycotting Sabra hummus, is encouraged to find a home in the CJL,” they said.
Staff writer Ben Kotopka contributed reporting.