J Street U Princeton Statement on Bringing Breaking the Silence to Their Campus

J Street U Princeton
on April 28, 2017

We write as leaders of J Street U Princeton to update you on our decision to move forward with an event hosting an exhibition on Princeton’s campus by the Israeli anti-occupation organization Breaking the Silence.

We have decided to host  the event Monday, May 1 through Wednesday, May 3 at the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding. We are doing so despite the objections of the Princeton Center for Jewish Life (CJL), and despite their warnings that hosting the event could lead to the revocation of our status as an affiliated group of the CJL.

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.

We at J Street U Princeton are pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy students who seek to affirm the ideals of self-determination for the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. Over the past month, we have sought to bring Breaking the Silence to our campus, an organization comprised of former Israeli soldiers who share testimonials of their experiences serving in the occupied territories. Through a photo exhibition, the soldiers share testimonials and highlight the moral and strategic dilemmas that the occupation creates for Israel and 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.

Unfortunately, the CJL has informed us that they will not grant permission for us to host Breaking the Silence in their space. Disappointed, we told them that we would instead try to share Breaking the Silence’s stories with the broader campus community by hosting the exhibition in another campus space, with no connection to the CJL. Incredibly, this too met with their disapproval.

We have now been told that, as a student group affiliated with the CJL, we are strongly discouraged from hosting Breaking the Silence anywhere on Princeton’s campus. If we move forward with the event, we would risk having J Street U removed entirely from affiliation with the CJL.

This decision by the CJL is inexplicable and inconsistent with their mission and their stated values and goals. It sends a clear message that there is no space for pro-Israel, anti-occupation voices within the Princeton Jewish community or for serious critical engagement about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the challenges faced by Israel today. Even soldiers who have faced the hard decisions and sacrifices of IDF service, and who want to teach about what they have experienced and learned, are apparently beyond the pale.

The CJL’s stance is also part of a wider context in which anti-occupation voices like Breaking the Silence are being demonized and marginalized by the Israeli government and in Jewish communal spaces. It is a context in which even acknowledging the very existence of a 50-year occupation, or criticizing any Israeli government policy, is being treated as somehow “anti-Israel.”

Just this week, Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu very publicly refused to meet with the foreign minister of Germany, a close ally, simply because the latter also planned to meet with representatives of Breaking the Silence and another anti-occupation organization. This attitude is undermining support for Israel, undermining critical discourse and alienating young people who want to support better futures for both Israelis and Palestinians.

With this in mind, J Street U Princeton will continue our sponsorship of the Breaking the Silence photo exhibition on our campus. We value our relationship with CJL and hope that they will reconsider their dismissive posture on this important issue. They can still choose to be true to the values of diversity, political openness, and serious intellectual engagement. Or they can choose to follow a path that censors and excludes members of our campus community, and that silences Israeli advocates for peace and for human rights.

We invite all members of the Princeton community to attend the Breaking the Silence exhibition, and we look forward to an engaged and vibrant discussion of the issues that it documents and explores.  

J Street U

The student organizing arm of J Street