Amid the lush and tranquil campus of my alma mater, Princeton University, a new kind of ivy has taken root, one that is as perilous as it is pernicious, and it threatens to undermine the very foundations of one of the world’s greatest institutions of higher learning.
You won’t find the ivy in question on the walls of the campus’ gothic architecture, or in any of the school’s numerous walkways and gardens. Instead, it has been implanted in the minds of some of the students and even administrators, many of whom have apparently forgotten the meaning of the term “intellectual discourse.”
The poison ivy to which I am referring is the intolerant and narrow-minded form of left-wing idealism that will brook no dissent and will not countenance any opposing points of view.
Displaying all the courage of the knights in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, who ignominiously retreat from battle to the cry of “run away! ” these pusillanimous progressives have once again delivered a sharp and heavy blow to freedom of speech and academic inquiry.
At the center of the recent storm is the campus Hillel organization run by director Julie Roth, who decided at the last moment to cancel a speaking engagement by Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, because of protests by left-wing Jewish students.
And just why did these budding young scholars seek to silence an official, democratically elected representative of the Jewish state? Because they disagree with her political views regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But instead of choosing to enter the verbal arena, listening to Hotovely and raising their voices in debate, these champions of co-existence could not stomach the thought of co-existing in the same room as a rightwing Israeli politician.
And so they raised a tempest in a teapot, leading Roth to capitulate faster than the Iraqi army in the Gulf War.
In the end, Chabad of Princeton, a separate organization, stepped in to provide Hotovely with a forum at which to speak.
Seeking to minimize her actions, Roth reportedly said that she had merely decided to “postpone” the speech “until we can properly vet the program through our Israel Advisory Committee.” Whether she managed to utter those words with a straight face remains unclear.
But what is most certainly clear is that Roth and Princeton Hillel have behaved in a disgraceful fashion by pandering to those who seek to delegitimize Israel and its leaders. After all, if a Jewish organization at Princeton won’t host a senior Israeli government official, it provides cover to anti-Israel activists across the United States to seek to shut down and stifle pro-Israel voices.
Now more than ever, it is essential that Israel roll up its sleeves and intensify its public diplomacy among millennials, many of whom have for years been fed a pro-Palestinian narrative by the mainstream media.
Hotovely is to be commended for doing just that by taking the time to visit campuses such as Princeton and Columbia, where she spoke earlier this week.
By turning her away, Roth and Princeton Hillel have done a disservice not only to Israel and the Jewish people but also to the intellectual community of which they claim to be a part.
After mumbling a few words of “regret” for the “inconvenience” she had caused to the deputy foreign minister, Roth then had the gall to declare that “we look forward to a continued robust and healthy debate around Israel in our community.”
But how is one supposed to have such a debate if only one side of the political divide is allowed to express its views? My fellow Princeton alum, deputy diplomacy minister Michael Oren, has rightly called for Roth to be fired and urged alumni to refrain from donating to Hillel.
Another Princeton graduate, Dan Feigelson, class of 1990, wrote to Roth saying that he does not think he ever contributed money to the organization, but “thanks to this latest demonstration of spinelessness on the part of Hillel, you can be sure I never will.”
And Marc Van Dyke, class of 1992, pointed out that on the Hillel website, Roth is described as having a “passion for pluralism” as well as “multiculturalism.”
Apparently, that pluralistic passion does not extend nor include Israel’s Right.
It pains me that an organization such as Hillel, which is supposed to be trying to connect young and disaffected Jews with Jewish life, would choose to employ the tools of censorship against Israel’s deputy foreign minister. This incident raises serious questions about Hillel’s role, leadership, and effectiveness, all of which have proven to be dubious at best.
Two centuries ago, it was a famous Princetonian named James Madison, who happened to serve as the father of the US Constitution and the fourth president of the United States, who said that, “The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.”
How sad that some Jewish students at Princeton, and the Hillel officials who work with them, have lost sight of this basic, fundamental truth.
Reprinted with author’s permission from The Jerusalem Post