I am a Princeton student and an Israeli. I am proud of both these titles, despite the fact that neither Princeton, nor Israel, are perfect. Monday’s at Princeton by Tzipi Hotovely, an Israeli member of parliament, coincided with the launch of the Princeton & Slavery project. There isn’t much in common between the two occasions, other than the simple truth that both Israel and Princeton must reckon with legacies fraught with inequality and intolerance.
On most days, it is easy for me to be angry at Israel. I spent two years of my life serving in its army, but Israeli politics leave me anxious about the future. I worry that Israel’s identity as a liberal democracy is at stake, and only the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside it — a far-flung reality — can ensure Israel’s survival. But today, I am more disappointed in Princeton. When the Center for Jewish Life attempted to “” Hotovely’s speech, it gave in to the politics of divisiveness.
During my time in the army, Israel held two national elections. Both times, I voted for a left-leaning party. Most of my friends voted for such parties as well. When the right-leaning Likud party won the highest number of votes and was given the mandate to form a government, we were angry and frustrated. Sound familiar? Perhaps because the same thing happened in the United States in 2016, when liberal Americans were shocked by the election of Donald Trump.
I disagree wholeheartedly with the views of the Likud party, as I disagree with Trump’s views. But I also disagree with the attempt to shut out these voices. When the Likud party won, I didn’t stop serving in my country’s army. When Trump won the American election, I didn’t flee the United States. Both the Likud Party and Trump have been legitimized through the democratic system that Israel and the United States champion. If millions of people support these views, is it truly fair not to, at the very least, hear them out?
Hotovely, a member of the Likud party and the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, represents a growing portion of the Israeli population. In a , 53 percent of Israelis expressed support of a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. But 54 percent of Israelis were against evacuating settlements in the West Bank, a step that would be necessary to create territorial continuity in a future Palestinian state. These numbers mean that Hotovely’s views, based on a religious Jewish perception of the Land of Israel, are not in the minority.
Liberal Jews in the United States are caught between an instinct to protect the moral integrity of the Jewish nation and a fundamental misunderstanding of the very country they are trying to protect. When Israelis vote for the Likud party, they are doing so for various reasons. They are worried about the rising cost of living, they want job security, and, yes, some of them mistrust Arabs. It's an awful truth that stems from generations of battles, from parents tired of sending their children to war, of buses and tunnels and rockets and spilled blood. It’s not a truth any nation should be proud of, but it is a reality.
The American Jewish community in Princeton and beyond must realize that its current strategy of trying to marginalize the political right in Israel is futile. This serves only to embolden leaders like Hotovely and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu,who is also acting Foreign Minister, when they claim that America is filled with closed-minded “liberals.” I believe that the best strategy is to listen, to exercise empathy for the voters who gave Hotovely power, and to try, through hard-hitting questions, to challenge her views.
By pushing to disinvite Hotovely, progressive Jews on Princeton’s campus are legitimizing the attempts on the opposite side of the political map to disinvite leaders of organizations such as Breaking the Silence, which is comprised of Israelis who shed light on the destructive nature of the continued military occupation of the West Bank. But more importantly, they are stopping themselves from fully understanding the political and religious realities of Israel. If the American Jewish community wants to exercise influence over Israel, the first step must be to appreciate its multifaceted, frustrating, and seemingly incomprehensible existence.
I didn't attend Hotovely's talk because I am currently studying abroad. From my apartment in Paris, I followed the live coverage of the event and felt disheartened because this Member of Parliament, whose views strike me as somewhere between bigoted and shortsighted, is a representative of the country I served. I am proud of the students that filled the hall and asked Hotovely difficult questions. I wish I could have been one of them. But I felt disheartened because, yesterday, the “liberal” Jewish community to which I belong discouraged the simple act of listening.
Iris Samuels is a junior in Politics and a former columnist for the ‘Prince’ from Zikhron Ya'Akov, Israel. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.