After the Center for Jewish Life denied J Street U Princeton access to space to host an Israeli anti-occupation exhibition, J Street, a “Pro-Peace, Pro-Israel, and Pro-Palestinian” political group, announced it will host its event at the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding.
The event, an exhibition created by Israeli NGO organization Breaking the Silence, will feature photos that “highlight the moral and strategic dilemmas that the occupation creates for Israel and for the Israel Defense Forces,” according to J Street’s Facebook post on Friday, written by J Street U Princeton President Dylan Mittag ‘20. The organization was established by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) veterans who wanted to share testimonials of serving in occupied territories.
Breaking the Silence has been criticized for its credibility, use of anonymous testimonies, receipt of donations from foreign countries, and overseas operation. Among its critics is the Israeli government.
According to the original post, J Street risked losing its affiliation status with the CJL for ignoring the CJL’s objections. The relationship between the CJL and J Street is complicated by the CJL’s commitment to inclusivity and simultaneous status as a Hillel organization.
After meeting with Rabbi Julie Roth, the CJL’s Executive Director, Mittag stated that their “relationship is intact. J Street will remain a CJL organization.”
Roth expressed concerns of miscommunication between J Street and the CJL, according to Mittag, who added that he was concerned that the process by which speakers are chosen is “one-sided” and lacks an anti-occupation voice. All final decisions are made by the executive director, who discusses the decision with members of the community, members of the CJL Student Board, and donors, according to Mittag.
The CJL did not oppose J Street bringing the organization to speak on campus, wrote Rabbi Roth in an email to the Prince.
“However, given the sensitivities related to the timing of the event overlapping with Yom HaZakiron, the day commemorating Israeli soldiers killed in battle and in terrorist attacks, and Yom Ha’atzmaut, the celebration of Israel’s Independence Day, we did not want to host the program in the building,” she wrote.
Mittag clarified that the event is currently scheduled to overlap with Yom Ha'atzmaut, the Israeli Independence Day.
Earlier this year, the CJL sponsored a group of students to attend the J Street national conference and arranged for them to meet with J Street’s national president, Jeremy Ben-Ami ‘84.
“We have engaged in a spirit of partnership with students involved with J Street U since before 2014, when the group became formally affiliated with the CJL,” wrote Roth in an email, adding that the CJL sponsored several J Street leaders on a trip to Israel and the West Bank to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
“Our relationship with the CJL is deeply important to us,” wrote Mittag, “We want to continue to be a part of this community.”
Mittag went on to criticize the CJL for sending “a clear message that there is no space for pro-Israel, anti-occupation voices within the Princeton Jewish community or for serious critical engagement about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
The CJL’s decision to deny J Street’s using the space is “inexplicable and inconsistent with their mission and their stated values and goals,” Mittag said. According to the CJL's website, its mission is “to partner with students and other members of the Princeton community to sustain and grow a welcoming, caring, and multi-faceted Jewish community that is integrated into the fabric of campus life.”
J Street’s Facebook post was “not intended to publically shame the CJL,” Mittag said in a phone interview.
The Center for Jewish Life is partnered with Hillel International, the largest Jewish campus organization. According to its Guidelines for Campus Israel Activities, Hillel will not partner with or host organizations, groups, or speakers that “deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders; Delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel; Support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions [BDS] against...Israel; [or] exhibit a pattern of disruptive behavior towards campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.”
The recent decision to deny J Street the ability to host Breaking Silence on CJL grounds “censors and excludes members of our campus community, and . . . silences Israeli advocates for peace and for human rights,” wrote Mittag.
The exhibition will take place on May 2 and 3 at the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding.
This post has been updated to include additional information regarding the nature of Breaking the Silence.