Students gathered in Lewis Library on Monday, Nov. 6, to protest a talk by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, accusing her of being Islamophobic and promoting hatred against Palestinians.
Hotovely was originally going to be hosted by the Center for Jewish Life, but the CJL eventually cancelled her invitation after students protested that it violated the organization’s policy against sponsoring speakers that promote hatred or racism. Many protesters felt that the CJL’s decision to cancel the talk validated their concerns, and were upset when Princeton Chabad decided to host Hotovely’s lecture. Hotovely issued a statement denouncing the CJL’s decision not to host her as an infringement of students’ “fundamental academic freedom.”
The protesters, who included members of the Alliance of Jewish Progressives and the Princeton Committee on Palestine, stood outside the lecture hall, holding handmade signs with slogans including “I believe in Palestinian history — why don’t you, MK?,” and “Israeli domination is not peace.” Many handed out slips of papers printed with a quote from a speech Hotovely made to Palestinian Members of Knesset earlier this year: “You are thieves of history. Your history books are empty, and you are trying to co-opt Jewish history and Islamicize it.” The protesters remained calm and largely silent, but there were four Public Safety officers in attendance, and protesters were frequently asked to move farther away from the entrance to the lecture hall to avoid blocking the hallway.
“Just hosting her is very insensitive to Palestinians and other Arabs who care about their cause,” said Diana Dayoub ’21, a member of the PCP. Dayoub stressed the importance of an “in-person” protest, adding that students “can’t be on the Security Council,” but they can have a voice on campus by showing up to protest.
“This is not a protest against her right to be here,” said AJP president Mikaela Gerwin ’19, “but against her beliefs and the hateful statements she has made against Palestinians.” Other protesters echoed this sentiment, and many held signs reading “MK Hotovely, I respectfully disagree,” indicating a concerted effort to create a courteous, but firm, protest.
“This is part of a larger conversation on free speech on campus and across the country,” said AJP member Talya Nevins ’18, alluding to the contentious debate playing out on college campuses across the nation about whether protesting conservative speakers infringes on the right of free speech.
The group of protesters dispersed after the talk began, some choosing to attend the talk while others went home. Benjamin Huang ’20, a member of the PCP, was one of the few who remained outside. Huang objected to Hotovely’s talk as a “propaganda tour,” and accused her of inciting “hatred, if not violence” against Arabs, but nonetheless stressed the importance of maintaining an open dialogue. He added that campus protests against conservative speakers have fallen under increased scrutiny and alluded to the violent protests against alt-right and white nationalist speakers at UC Berkeley.
“We want to have a discussion,” Huang said, adding that by “responding to her incivility with civility we hold the higher moral ground.” He said that it is important to show up, “even if it’s much more controversial in our current political environment.”