University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 addressed Israeli alumni and guests about Jewish life on campus and the petition advocating the University’s divestment from companies with relationships to the “Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the continued siege of Gaza” at an alumni gathering near Tel Aviv, Israel, on Dec. 30.
Eisgruber said the two main objectives of this gathering included updating the alumni about what was happening on campus and bringing the alumni community together.
A question arose from an alumnus about reactions on American campuses to Israel, according to Eisgruber, who expressed disapproval of the divestment petition.
“I mentioned the petition to make sure people were aware of it in response to that [question] and also indicated that I thought it was quite clear that the petition failed to meet our standards or social policy decisions about endowment investing,” he said.However, Eisgruber added that the University does not have a stand on the Israeli-Palestinian topic as a university.
“We have a number of different professors who take different views about that subject,"he said."It is a topic about which there is disagreement, as there should be disagreement on university campuses.”
Eisgruber said that an alumnus from the 1940s had said that he remembered a time when there were almost no Jewish students on campus. The alumnushad recalled organizing gatherings, including one in which Albert Einstein spoke to the small number of Jewish students who were on campus at the time, Eisgruber said.
In March 2008, Eisgruber discovered that he had Jewish ancestry when he was assisting his son with an elementary school project, he told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in 2013.
“Understanding myself as Jewish helps me understand who I am, what the experiences of my family are and the set of cultural traditions from which I emerge,” he told Haaretz. “For me it was a voyage of connection and discovery and put me in touch with a wonderful set of people who have enriched my life tremendously.”
Yael Berda GS ’14, who is affiliated with the Princeton Association of Israel and studied Israeli politics at the University, said she was hoping the petition will open more of the debate at Princeton.
“I’m happy that the debate is going on at Princeton,” she said. “Although I don’t personally support the boycott, I encourage everyone to take a stand and think that everybody should be a part of the conversation."
Berda added that she usually celebrated religious holidays at the Center for Jewish Life but felt the campus did not possess a vibrant political life with respect to Israel, with J Street and Tigers for Israel often debating among themselves.
However, Eisgruber said that Jewish life on campus is much more vibrant now than it used to be, with communities like the CJL and Chabad thriving.“I think that continued engagement by this University in Israel and in the Middle East more broadly will be very important for our mission in the years ahead,” he added.
The gathering had a record turnout of approximately 115 alumni and guests, according to Associate Vice President for Alumni Affairs Margaret Moore Miller ’80.
According to Eisgruber, he is the first University president to speak at an Israeli alumni gathering.“When we do these trips, we get much larger turnouts than we would if there were just some other alumni event taking place or even if a faculty member or another administrator were coming. So we regularly get record turnouts,” he said.