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Next week, the undergraduate student body will vote on a referendum, put forward by the Princeton Committee on Palestine (PCP), that calls on the University to “immediately halt usage of all Caterpillar machinery in all ongoing campus construction projects given the violent role that Caterpillar machinery has played in the mass demolition of Palestinian homes, the murder of Palestinians and other innocent people, and the promotion of the prison-industrial complex.” This referendum has been met with unfounded allegations of antisemitism. We, the Alliance of Jewish Progressives, reject this characterization and urge the student body to support the referendum.
Those who oppose the referendum, supported by recent online advertisements targeted at our student body, suggest that because the referendum is aligned with the global Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement, it is therefore, in their eyes, antisemitic and a threat to the safety of Jewish students on campus. A recent petition has even called for President Eisgruber to remove the referendum from the ballot, arguing that a vote would endanger the Jewish community on campus. These charges are not only intentionally misleading, but, more disturbingly, attempt to undermine the referendum by distracting students from the real issue at hand: Caterpillar’s complicity in Israeli home demolitions across Israel/Palestine and the West Bank.
We write here to reject the idea that the PCP referendum is motivated by antisemitism or is itself antisemitic. Criticisms of the State of Israel, including anti-Zionism and the BDS movement, are not inherently antisemitic. Nor is solidarity with the Palestinian people. We do not believe that advocating for Palestinian liberation is a threat to Jewish safety, nor do we believe that Jewish safety is dependent upon Palestinian dispossession. We reject the idea that Jewish safety must come at the cost of Palestinian freedom.
PCP’s referendum is motivated by solidarity with Palestinians and a desire to encourage Caterpillar to take a stand against the many despicable actions their machinery is used for — from building prisons in the United States to demolishing homes in Palestine. Attempts to slander activists associated with Palestinian solidarity movements are unjustified and deliberately deceptive.
We also reject critiques of the referendum that refuse to distinguish between Zionism and Judaism. We are deeply troubled by this concentrated effort to homogenize the Jewish perspective, both at Princeton and beyond. Jewish students on this campus hold a variety of beliefs regarding this referendum and the State of Israel, and no organization or individual has the right to speak for all Jews. We will not accept efforts to silence Palestinians, and other non-Jewish students who stand in solidarity with Palestine, in our name.
Our support for this referendum is motivated by our solidarity with Palestinians and our desire to encourage the University to discontinue its relationships with companies like Caterpillar which are complicit in racist, settler-colonial violence. Rather than fostering an unsafe environment, this referendum is a genuine effort to fulfill Princeton’s unofficial motto to be “in the service of humanity.” We hope that our Princeton classmates will join us in supporting the Caterpillar referendum during next week’s vote.
The Alliance of Jewish Progressives
This op-ed, for which Zora Arum ’22 and Chaya Holch ’23 serve as official signatories, was written collaboratively by the members of the Alliance of Jewish Progressives. Arum and Holch are the co-presidents emeritae of AJP.