From April 14 to 15, Israel War Room (IWR), an organization with no affiliation to Princeton, spent $800-899 on a sponsored Facebook post declaring that the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) referendum to halt the use of Caterpillar machinery had been defeated. In fact, preliminary results showed that the referendum had passed, and results have yet to be certified by USG as of April 17.
IWR has over 100,000 followers on Facebook and 50,000 on Twitter. It claims on its website its mission is to “fact check lies and give context to expose misleading narratives about Israel.”
The post claimed that “56% of Princeton students voted not to support the anti-Israel referendum question,” and linked to an April 13 Princeton Tory article that reported 40 percent of votes had opposed the referendum and 16 percent had been abstentions.
Although USG confirmed election results of the other two referenda — which pertained to diversity, equity, and inclusion and mental health — they have not certified the election results for this referendum due to pending appeals before the Senate.
The Tory article originally claimed the referendum was “reject[ed]” by Princeton students since if abstentions votes are included in the total vote tally, the item would receive 43.6 percent of votes, failing to meet a majority. But unofficial initial results, made public on April 13, in fact showed the referendum passing with a 52.2 percent, since according to Appendix D of the USG Constitution, abstention votes are excluded when calculating a majority for referendum ballots.
The issue over the exclusion of abstention ballots from the total vote count has been a source of controversy. Those claiming the election has been unfair have cited screenshots from texts exchanged by USG Chief Elections Officer Brian Li ’24 and Tigers for Israel President Jared Stone ’24 prior to the election, which seem to show Li informing Stone that abstention ballots would be included.
Myles McKnight ’23, who filed the objection to the USG on the night of April 13 regarding this seeming mischaracterization, alleged in an interview with The Daily Princetonian that the opposition’s strategy had been shaped by the understanding that abstention votes would be included.
“We told hundreds of students that it was better to abstain than not vote at all,” McKnight said.
The post sponsored by IWR was shown 15,000–20,000 times, and thanked “students who rejected the hateful BDS-affiliated measure.” BDS is an acronym for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement.
Outside groups sponsored social media campaigns after voting had started.
From March 31 to April 5, IWR spent over $200 on a sponsored Facebook post, which asked viewers to demand University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 denounce the referendum. Alums for Campus Fairness also funded ads opposing the referendum, spending around $1,000.
Since April 12, a Facebook page, Sanctuary Space, has been running a Facebook ad against the referendum that cost $100-199. BDS is BS ran an ad after voting had closed that referred to Princeton’s “campus-wide BDS referendum that targets Caterpillar tractors in Israel.”
StopAntisemitism, a group that claims to be “dedicated to exposing groups and individuals that espouse incitement towards the Jewish people,” posted an Instagram story and post that stated “Princeton students reject antisemitic BDS referendum.” A screenshot of the Instagram story seen by the ‘Prince’ mentioned the USG Chief Elections Officer by name and contained his image.
Reid Zlotky ’23, the official referendum opposition leader, told the ‘Prince’ that he has not coordinated with these outside groups and that “they’re acting on their own behalf.”
Eric Periman ’23, President of the Princeton Committee on Palestine (PCP) and sponsor of the referendum, told the ‘Prince’ that “it’s unfortunate to see a miscommunication blown up to be a far larger factor in the results than I think anyone who objectively looks at the situation would say. They’re trying to use it to overturn the democratic will of the student body.”
Paige Cromley is a sophomore who writes for the News, Features, and Arts & Culture sections of the ‘Prince.’
Correction: This piece was updated to reflect that the original, not most current version of the Tory article had claimed the referendum was rejected by students.