A lone truck with a mounted screen was spotted driving around campus and downtown Princeton on Tuesday, flashing slides with images and messaging targeting the University, President Christopher Eisgruber ’83, and the Alliance for Jewish Progressives (AJP).
One slide depicted physicists Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer, alongside a photo of President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 and a crying tiger.
“The University that provided refuge to Jewish scientists fleeing Nazi Germany is now promoting blood libel against Jews & hiring apologists of a nuclear-armed genocidal regime in Iran,” the screen read.
The truck marks the latest development in the ongoing controversy surrounding the inclusion of the book, “The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability,” on the syllabus of a Near Eastern studies (NES) course. The book has been criticized by the Center for Jewish Life’s Rabbi Gil Steinlauf ’91 and an Israeli minister. Attempts to remove the book have been criticized by campus groups, notably the left-wing Alliance of Jewish Progressives (AJP) which circulated a petition that got over 400 signatures, alongside the pro-free speech Princeton Open Campus Coalition. Eisgruber has defended the inclusion on the grounds of academic freedom.
The Jewish Leadership Project (JLP) has claimed responsibility for the truck and messages. JLP is an organization external to Princeton that aims to “demand Jewish leaders prioritize the safety and welfare of the Jewish community over all other concerns,“ according to its website. Avi Goldwasser, co-founder of JLP, told the ‘Prince’ that the truck was sent to “to educate and communicate to the community as to what’s going on.”
In a statement to The Daily Princetonian, University spokesperson Mike Hotchkiss wrote, "As an intellectual community, the University attaches great value to freedom of expression and vigorous debate, but it also attaches great importance to mutual respect, and it deplores expressions of hatred directed against any individual or group.“
The AJP, which has defended for the book’s inclusion, was also targeted by the JLP’s messages. “Alliance of Jewish progressives: There’s nothing progressive about endorsing Jew-hatred by pretending to be for social justice: MORAL NARCISSITS [sic],“ the screen read.
“While the Alliance of Jewish Progressives is dismayed by the Jewish Leadership Project’s deeply problematic, misleading, and false messaging, we remain steadfast in our support for Professor Larson’s right to teach her course as she sees fit,“ wrote the AJP in a message to the ‘Prince.’ “Our political commitments are intertwined with our Jewish identity.“
This is not the first time JLP has used this type of messaging to publicly oppose what they have considered to be ‘Anti-Jewish hate.’ In Sept. 2023, they sent trucks to the University of Pennsylvania, during its Palestine Writes Festival. Goldwasser told the ‘Prince‘ that the JLP sends similar messages across the country.
Goldwasser has been a long-time right-wing activist within the Jewish community and has spent the last 20 years focusing specifically on college campuses. Goldwasser confirmed to the ‘Prince’ that the demonstration was in response to “The Right to Maim.”
The truck also displayed messages accusing the University of engaging in blood libel against the Jewish community, and teaching “false history.” The jumbotron screen later showed an inaccurately expansive map of historically Islamic empires and queried why Princeton was not teaching about the “biggest colonial empire in history“ when teaching about colonialism. The largest Islamic empire was the Umayyad Empire which spanned across Central Asia, Europe, and North Africa. It never reached East Asia, or passed the African Horn, as shown on map.
One slide also referred to the hiring of Robert Malley, a former American envoy to Iran currently under investigation for the mishandling of classified information, as a visiting lecturer this year in SPIA. One of the slides shown included, “Complicit faculty: stop propping up the repressive Iranian regime. The Iranian people are crying out. Princeton is silent.”
Rabbi Gil Steinlauf ’91, who was among the original voices urging the professor to remove the book from the syllabus, critiqued the JLP’s interference as an off-campus organization. “Princeton CJL exists to support, welcome, and serve as a home on campus for ALL Jewish students at Princeton — regardless of their backgrounds or beliefs,” wrote Rabbi Gil Steinlauf ’91 in a statement to the ‘Prince.’ “We believe the people and organizations best positioned to support Jewish students and address antisemitism on campus are those that are part of the campus ecosystem and here interacting with our students, faculty members, and other identity and faith-based organizations every day.”
According to Hotchkiss, University officials have been in touch with a number of students who may have been affected by this incident, both to offer support and share resources regarding bias and harassment.
Jasmyn Dobson is a senior News contributor for the ‘Prince.’
Please direct any corrections requests to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.
Correction: this piece has been updated to clarify the JLP's past activities.