Last week, a group of students and faculty released a petition calling on the University to disassociate from companies with ties to Israel’s military activity and presence in the occupied West Bank and blockade of Gaza. The petition also calls on the University to develop affiliations with Palestinian “academic and cultural” institutions, while dissociating from corresponding Israeli institutions.
Organizational signatures on the letter include the Princeton Committee on Palestine (PCP), Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Princeton Faculty for Justice in Palestine (PFJP), and the Alliance of Jewish Progressives (AJP). Other groups not primarily known for pro-Palestine activism also signed on including the Native Graduate Students of Princeton, the South Asian Progressive Alliance (SAPA), and Ellipses: Slam Poetry.
The letter is at least the sixth time in the last 20 years a group including undergraduates, graduate students, and professors have launched efforts for the University to divest or dissociate from companies tied to Israel. This includes two petitions in 2002 and 2014, two unsuccessful referendums in 2010 and 2015, and the Caterpillar Referendum in 2022.
Max Weiss, a professor in the history department and member of the recently formed Princeton Faculty for Justice in Palestine, read the letter’s demands during a protest on Friday, Dec. 1 in front of Nassau Hall. While featuring similar themes and chants to the two previous pro-Palestinian protests, this demonstration, at roughly 120 attendees, was noticeably smaller.
Separated by fencing, a group of pro-Israel counterprotestors organized by Elazar Cramer ’25 and other students stood holding signs for a fundraising effort tied to the actions of the protestors. Matching donors agreed to provide a specific amount — between 50 cents and $3 — for certain chants, actions, or signs such as “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” and “you’re committing genocide.”
“I love Princeton and feel that a small group of instigators are trying to move it from an academic space with healthy discourse to a divisive and draining space where attacks on my identity as a Jew and a Zionist are normalized,” Cramer wrote in a statement to the ‘Prince.’
The rally also featured speeches from a Palestinian student and students in the AJP, as well as the New York and New Jersey chapter of the Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, also known as Samidoun.
Samidoun, which advocates for Palestinians held in Israeli jails, has been alleged by Israel to have ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which has been designated as a terrorist group by the United States. In Germany, Samidoun was banned for organizing a celebration of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
SJP and PCP, two undergraduate groups who promoted the event, declined to comment on the rally, including Samidoun’s involvement.
“When Palestinians are oppressed, boycott, sanction, and divest,” protestors chanted during the rally.
According to Cramer, Friday’s rally raised over $3,500 from 40 donors to be donated to the Tel Aviv Sexual Assault Crisis Center and the relief fund for Kibbutz Be’eri, one of the Israeli communities that was most devastated by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack.
The counterprotestors were also vocal, singing songs and chanting slogans such as “Am Yisrael Chai.” This marks a notable contrast from previous pro-Israel counterprotests on campus, in which organizers stressed that students should be silent and not engage with pro-Palestinian demonstrators.
Friday’s demonstration, the third since Oct. 7, also marked the first significant intervention by the University, which told organizers beforehand that amplified sound would not be permitted.
At the beginning of his speech, Weiss used a megaphone before being directed by two free speech coordinators from the University to stop using it. While the University prohibits the use of amplified sound outside during weekday business hours, previous pro-Palestinian protests on campus made extensive use of megaphones.
“We received complaints following previous rallies that the amplified sound had interfered with the ability to conduct classes and University business,” University spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss wrote in a statement to the ‘Prince.’
Beyond the rallies, the petition marks the first explicit statement of demands regarding the University’s endowment and investment positions. The letter broadly defines the types of companies and institutions subject to dissociation, including those that “profit from or engage in the State of Israel’s ongoing military campaign, occupation, and apartheid policies.”
“There is currently no way to differentiate between the institutional, economic, or political foundations of rule in the State of Israel, on one hand, and the regimes of siege in Gaza and military occupation in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights, on the other hand,” Weiss wrote to the ‘Prince.’
Weiss, who will be teaching HIS 267: History of Palestine/Israel next semester, has been involved in pro-Palestinian activism on campus for nearly a decade. In 2014, he was one of five faculty members who wrote a petition to the University calling for divestment from companies that “contribute to or profit from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the continued siege of Gaza.”
But numerous petitions in line with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement on campus in the last 20 years have failed to significantly move the needle on University policy. The first petition came in 2002, when students called on the University to divest its $100 million investment in companies with ties to Israel.
In 2010, undergraduates failed to pass a referendum to offer alternatives to Sabra hummus in University retail locations as part of the BDS movement. “Ask most Princeton students on campus about Sabra hummus and they will probably roll their eyes,” a reporter for the ‘Prince’ wrote at the time.
In 2015, an undergraduate referendum calling on the University to divest from companies involved in Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank also failed.
But even successful referendums are non-binding when it comes to University policy.
In the spring of 2022, the University declined to take action on the contentious Caterpillar Referendum, which called for a University boycott Caterpillar equipment. The referendum passed according to the bylaws of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) constitution but there was ambiguity over how abstentions would be counted.
The sustaining power of this most recent petition, which has garnered 484 signatures as of initial publication of this article, will remain to be seen. However, attendees at Friday’s rally were determined.
“We’ll be back. We’ll be back,” they chanted.
Miriam Waldvogel is an assistant News editor at the ‘Prince.’
Please send corrections to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.
Correction: This piece has been updated to more clearly clarify that the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, not Samidoun, has been designated as a terrorist group by the United States.