The Center for Jewish Life (CJL) is proud to host Israel Shabbat, which celebrates Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state. We will celebrate Israeli culture through food and a performance by Joel Chasnoff, an Israeli comedian who will share his humorous take on the experience of immigrating to Israel from the United States. There will be a discussion session during dinner led by Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer, and students will share their experiences from two CJL-sponsored trips to Israel and the West Bank over winter break. Through our wide range of thoughtful and nuanced Israel-related programs, the CJL embraces the diversity of opinions that members of our community have about Israeli politics. We look forward to welcoming the entire campus community on Friday night.
In hosting Israel Shabbat, we take no communal stance on the Israeli government's policies or actions in regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We appreciate that members of our community have a wide range of opinions regarding those policies, and encourage everyone to attend this event and respectfully engage with their peers about Israel.
While planning Israel Shabbat, we sought feedback from a group of students with a wide variety of political opinions, including the leaders of the Israel-related groups affiliated with the CJL and leaders of this protest. During this process, the event was unanimously approved. Only in the week before the event did any individuals raise concerns that they would feel uncomfortable at an event that celebrated Israel in any form.
In response to these recent concerns, student leaders and staff members met with leaders of Alliance of Jewish Progressives (AJP) on multiple occasions to explore ways to include them in the event. Options included adding discussion groups to the dining hall itself, sponsoring a discussion at the CJL, in another space, or elsewhere on campus, depending on their preferences. This model of offering multiple conversations within the CJL building on Shabbat has been embraced by the community at other Shabbat dinners because it allows small-group discussion on multiple topics at the same time.
Rejecting these offers, AJP leaders gave the CJL less than 24 hours to fundamentally change or cancel the event, or face a disparaging campaign against Israel Shabbat. These individuals of course have the right to host their own Shabbat dinner, but their messaging, which discourages participation in Israel Shabbat at the CJL, is both inaccurate and divisive.
The claim that Israel Shabbat represents a “right-wing political agenda” or that the CJL has rejected nuance in our Israel programming is a blatant misrepresentation of the truth. Tigers for Israel is a non-partisan student organization that aims to educate and expose the Princeton community to Israel's politics, history, and culture. Through discussions and cultural celebrations, Tigers for Israel (TFI) engages the community with diverse aspects of Israeli life and conversations about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
While I respect every member of our community’s right to free speech and recognize the political expediency of the misleading messaging against Israel Shabbat, I’m saddened that these individuals rejected constructive attempts to include them. It is particularly reprehensible that these individuals have chosen to promote their event by co-opting and invoking the language of Take Back the Night, a national organization to end all forms of sexual violence.
My hope is that, with this fuller understanding of Israel Shabbat, the Princeton community can come together at the CJL to celebrate the existence of Israel. Ultimately, the CJL remains committed to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. We support and encourage a vigorous dialogue about issues facing the State of Israel. We welcome every student to participate in our social, cultural, religious, and educational programs, regardless of background or belief. And it is in the name of these values that we invite all members of the campus community to celebrate with us on Friday night at Israel Shabbat.
Gabriel Swagel is a junior from Chevy Chase, Maryland. He serves as the President of the CJL Student Board, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.