The Center for Jewish Life announced the postponement of a talk with Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, on Sunday evening after drawing criticism from the Alliance of Jewish Progressives for “her racist, anti-Palestinian views.” On Monday, Rabbi Eitan Webb and Gitty Webb from the Scharf Family Chabad House at the University sent an email to the Jewish community announcing that it would host the speaker instead.
In an email to AJP and other members of the Jewish community, Rabbi Julie Roth, the CJL’s executive director, wrote that the program with Hotovely would be reviewed by the Israel Advisory Committee, an advisory board comprised of CJL Israel Fellow Lior Sharir and students tasked with determining best practices when student groups plan to host controversial programs.
Roth was not available for comment at the time of publication.
“I am personally happy to take over as the sponsor for the Tzipi Hotovely event tonight,” explained Rabbi Eitan Webb, director of the Chabad House, in an email. “As a firm believer that every person is entitled to speak, and that dissent and debate are meant to be done in person with even more speech and not by preventing speech, I am glad and honored to be [tonight’s] sponsor.”
He added that the decision to host Hotovely is not meant to express “anything negative about those who chose to rescind her invite.”
“We came today in order to speak — to create dialogue,” Hotovely began, addressing a packed room. She asked the audience for their toughest questions. Writing them down, she promised to address them later and launched into her prepared remarks.
Tzipi Hotovely has been a member of the Israeli government, the Knesset, since 2009 and was made Foreign Minister in 2015. She was scheduled to visit Princeton on Monday, Nov. 6, as part of a larger tour of U.S. universities, which included NYU and Columbia. The lectures were aimed to coincide with the release of government-sponsored pamphlets containing information for pro-Israel activists on campus.
“The way to change things in the Middle East goes through this word: values,” said Hotovely. “The values [of Israel] are freedom. The values are sanctity of life. The values are democracy.” These values, she claimed, guide all the actions of the government and the people.
When pressed by a student about the disparity between Israeli and Palestinian deaths in recent years, she pointed to these principles. She explained the Israeli policy of minimizing civilian harm, yet made it clear that this policy does not apply to terrorists.
“We are very proud to fight terror organizations,” she responded, adding, “Hamas is a terrorist organization.” Additionally, she compared Israel to other countries in the Middle East.
“We are definitely in a horrible region, but Israel is not the country killing civilians,” she said, noting the thousands dead in Syria.
She also addressed the issue of apartheid in Israel. When a student asked about this issue, she joked that now she knew she was on a college campus.
“Israel is a democratic regime,” she asserted in response. “All Israeli citizens have equal rights.” She also mentioned that, “In Israel, every person has all the full political and civil rights that are accessible to [her] children.”
At the end of the discussion, Hotovely stated that she wanted to “see the first Palestinian Nobel Prize.” She left government booklets containing information after the lecture for any students who were interested.
These booklets outline the Israeli government’s stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “Israel’s settlements are entirely legal, since Jerusalem and the West Bank were never under Palestinian Arab sovereignty. The Palestinian Authority actively encourages children to hate Jews and glorifies terrorists as role models. The Israeli government, however, opposes violence and hate speech against everyone, including Palestinians,” one reporter .
After the lecture, audience members remarked on the uniqueness of a talk in which people on both sides of the issues attended.
“It was powerful that in the end this [talk] did occur,” said Abraham Waserstein ’21.
“I feel so blessed that this was able to occur,” said Kirsten Keels ’21, agreeing. “It is a true statement of free speech and makes me want to know more about this issue.”
After the talk, Eitan Webb added that he was pleased with the flow of free speech represented by the talk.
“I am a big believer in free speech and when I heard that this event was not going to be able to take place, that disturbed me,” said Eitan Webb. “When various people reached out to me and asked if I would come in as a replacement, I was happy and honored to do that.”
The AJP objected to Hotovely’s visit to campus, arguing that the program is at odds with the CJL’s Israel Policy, which states, “The CJL will not...sponsor groups or speakers that…promote racism or hatred of any kind.” Hotovely is known for her outspoken stances on the West Bank Settlements. She said earlier this week to the that “Israel will not apologize for the building of life for 3,000 years since the Jewish people began their historic path in Judea and Samaria,” and she believes in a Greater Israel, one that also encompasses the West Bank.
In a of protest to the CJL that would have been published in the The Daily Princetonian, AJP argued that Hotovely’s past statements about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the settlements works against a peaceful solution. Speaking to Palestinian Members of Knesset, Hotovely , “You are thieves of history. Your history books are empty, and you are trying to co-opt Jewish history and Islamicize it.”
AJP’s in the ‘Prince’ includes an accusation: “the CJL’s Israel Policy has previously served as a thinly veiled method to exclude left-wing voices.” The letter goes on to cite examples of when the CJL “refused to co-sponsor” or “qualify” the sponsorship of left-of-center events, including feminist activist Penny Rosenwasser and Israeli filmmaker Shimon Dotan, suggesting the that the CJL has a double standard when it comes to hosting speakers. The CJL “must subject all political views on Israel to the same standard of scrutiny,” reads the AJP letter. “We firmly reject the CJL’s choice to host a racist speaker like Hotovely while it continues to quiet progressive voices.”
The program was advertised as a “discussion with students [and a] conversation to hear a different perspective on various issues facing Israel from a member of the Israeli government.” It took place on Nov. 6 at 5:30 p.m. in Lewis Library 138.