Princeton Center for Jewish Life denies space for Breaking the Silence exhibit

Marcy Oster

(JTA) — The Center for Jewish Life at Princeton University denied the local chapter of J Street U space to hold an exhibition created by the left-wing Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence.

The J Street U chapter decided to go forward with the exhibit, to be held Tuesday and Wednesday, in another campus space, despite the possibility of causing a rift with the Center for Jewish Life, or CJL, which is affiliated with Hillel International, the student newspaper the Daily Princetonian reported.

“We do not take this step lightly. Our relationship with the CJL is deeply important to us, and we consider the CJL and the Princeton Jewish community to be a home for us on campus. We want to continue to be a part of this community,” J Street U Princeton wrote in a statement posted on Facebook.

Following a meeting with Rabbi Julie Roth, the CJL’s executive director, J Street U Princeton President Dylan Mittag told the Daily that their “relationship is intact. J Street will remain a CJL organization.” J Street U has been affiliated with CJL since 2014.

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The CJL did not oppose J Street bringing the organization to speak on campus,  Roth told the student newspaper.

“However, given the sensitivities related to the timing of the event overlapping with Yom HaZikaron, the day commemorating Israeli soldiers killed in battle and in terrorist attacks, and Yom Ha’atzmaut, the celebration of Israel’s Independence Day, we did not want to host the program in the building,” she said.

Breaking the Silence is an Israeli military veterans’ group that alleges the Israeli army abuses Palestinians. The photo exhibition it plans to bring to the Princeton campus includes soldiers’ testimonials and deals with the moral and strategic dilemmas that operating in the West Bank  creates for the Israel Defense Forces.

“We specifically wanted to bring Breaking the Silence to the CJL because of these issues’ deep relevance to the Jewish and pro-Israel communities at Princeton. As an affiliated student group of the CJL, we view it as a natural home for our advocacy and for these kinds of events, discussions and learning opportunities. It is supposed to be a place of welcome for students holding a wide spectrum of Jewish religious and political belief and expression, and for diverse and active engagement with Israel,” the statement said.

Hillel International’s guidelines prohibit  its chapters from partnering with or hosting  organizations, groups, or speakers that “deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders; Delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel; Support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions [BDS] against…Israel; [or] exhibit a pattern of disruptive behavior towards campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.”

CJL sponsored a group of students to attend the J Street national conference earlier this year and arranged for them to meet with J Street’s national president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, a Princeton graduate.

Roth said in an email to the campus newspaper that CJL has been “engaged in a spirit of partnership” with J Street U-involved students and pointed out that her organization sponsored several J Street Students on a trip to Israel and the West Bank where they met with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

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