Princeton Hillel Ponders Barring Princeton Professor from Speaking at Event on His Own Campus

A PR flack for the Israeli government at Princeton’s Center for Jewish life is thinking of barring a Jewish professor of history at Princeton from speaking at Princeton’s Hillel. Because that professor has the wrong position on Israel.

Inside Higher Ed reports:

As one of the student organizers, Kyle Dhillon, the president of the Princeton Committee on Palestine, explained it, his group and two others – Tigers for Israel and J Street U Princeton – got together at the end of the summer to organize a panel on the Gaza conflict. They planned to invite Princeton professors – including Max Weiss, an associate professor of history and Near Eastern Studies – and they decided to seek co-sponsorship from the university’s Center for Jewish Life, an affiliate of Hillel International.

The center could provide funds and space, Dhillon said, and also lend the event greater legitimacy. “It wouldn’t be a student-only event; it would also have some university weight behind it.”

But Weiss’s inclusion as a potential speaker proved a problem. In a Sept. 8 email to the student organizers, a redacted version of which was provided to Inside Higher Ed, Slav Leibin, a Jewish Agency Israel Fellow to Hillel, wrote, “I would like to bring to your attention that Max Weiss has recently signed a public statement supporting boycott of Israel. This issue complicates the program for us, as it is Highly sensitive for a CJL [group] to sponsor a program with a speaker who made a statement like this, which is one of the red lines in our Israel policy.”

“Let’s deliberate about this issue in more depth before sending an official invitation,” Leibin’s email continued.

Hillel International’s guidelines for campus-based Israel activities prohibit the organization from partnering with or hosting individuals or groups that support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, that deny “the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders” and that otherwise “delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel.” Weiss is among the signatories of an August letter from Middle East studies scholars calling for the boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

“When I got word of this about a month later on Oct. 7, I was saddened and concerned to learn that campus life and the exercise of free speech here on campus at Princeton were in fact being policed, monitored and determined in the final analysis by non-academic members of the Princeton community, indeed someone who is here at Princeton with a specifically political and to a lesser extent cultural mandate,” said Weiss, who penned an op-ed titled “Is the Center for Jewish Life stifling free speech on campus?” that was just published in The Daily Princetonian.

Weiss noted in the op-ed that Leibin is on Princeton’s campus through a partnership between Hillel and the Jewish Agency for Israel, a nonprofit organization: “Although technically autonomous, the JA effectively operates as an advocate for the government of Israel,” Weiss wrote. “For someone representing the JA to bar a member of the Princeton faculty from sharing his or her expertise and perspectives is no more acceptable than it would be for an envoy of the Chinese, Canadian or any other government to do the same.”

According to Hillel’s website, the Jewish Agency Israel Fellows “are charismatic young professionals who have served in the Israel Defense Forces. In their roles on campus, they share personal experiences of modern Israel through the lens of its socially progressive values and its accomplishments in technology, life sciences, and the arts.”

Waiting for all those historians and scholars who were so exercised by the ASA boycott, which would have barred not a single historian from Israel from speaking on an American campus, to raise a fuss about this.


  1. hlbtoo October 16, 2014 at 5:21 pm | #

    It is interesting that a professor who wants to limit free speech is upset when his free speech is limited…I, for one, disagree with both sides. I want to hear from everyone, especially those I disagree with. This was once the norm. Unfortunately stifling those we disagree agree with has become the new normal…

    • Corey Robin October 16, 2014 at 5:24 pm | #

      What evidence do you have that this professor wishes to limit free speech? And if you say he supports the boycott, I’m afraid you’ll have to do better than that. Since as I wrote in my post, the ASA boycott would not ban — indeed, does not ban — a single professor from Israel from speaking on American campuses. Indeed, the ASA convention this year is actively inviting and featuring professors from Israel at its convention.

      • PAK October 16, 2014 at 6:11 pm | #

        What’s the political position(s) of these professors that the ASA is inviting?

  2. jonnybutter October 16, 2014 at 7:13 pm | #

    Did we skate over something, PAK? ‘..does not ban’. It’s understandable that you want to change the subject.

  3. empty October 16, 2014 at 7:22 pm | #

    Corey, you might want to bring this to the attention of your new chancellor JB Milliken, who announced that he opposed the ASA boycott because of his support for “the unfettered pursuit of knowledge, the open exchange of ideas, and the robust engagement of faculty and students among institutions around the world.” Maybe he can make another announcement.

  4. AF October 16, 2014 at 7:47 pm | #

    Better title would be: “Princeton Jewish organization decides not to sponsor event with supporter of Israel boycott.” I’m having trouble seeing how anybody is being barred from speaking.

    • Corey Robin October 16, 2014 at 8:11 pm | #

      If you want to go down this road, you probably need to add a couple of crucial qualifiers. Like so: “At the insistence of an individual, who is paid and deputized by a para-organization of the Israeli government to spread propaganda about the virtues of the State of Israel, a Jewish organization on the Princeton campus — an organization that is subject to the dictates of an international organization which imposes, over and against the wishes of its members, a litmus test of who is allowed to speak to local chapters of that organization — declared that it would not allow an event to go forward with its sponsorship if the organizers of that event allowed a Jewish professor to speak at that event in violation of the litmus test of that international organization.

      • AF October 16, 2014 at 8:39 pm | #

        Not sure why those qualifiers are crucial nor do I quite see why we’re using language of international conspiracy here. American Jews are perfectly capable of being strongly Zionist without any foreign influence. At the end of the day that’s all this is: a Jewish organization being Zionist. And sure, employing young Israelis, like a lot of American Jewish organizations do. Dog bites man.

        • Corey Robin October 16, 2014 at 8:55 pm | #

          They’re crucial b/c you’re trying to paint this as a local group of students deciding who they will or won’t invite to an event. But of course the article shows that that isn’t the case at all. And I know it’s tempting to try and distract people with insinuations of anti-Semitism, but the fact is that in this case, the group of American Jews in question — students at Princeton University — wanted to hold an event that included a Jewish professor that was opposed to Israel, and it did in fact require the diktat of an international organization AND a paid propagandist for the Israeli government to bring them into line.

          Dog bites man? Don’t know what college campus you’re familiar with, but that’s not usually how it’s done. Though if what you’re really saying is that it’s no surprise that contemporary Zionists are adepts in the methods of the Comintern, well then, I suppose I can’t really argue with that. I suppose I should have used that as my headline instead.

      • AF October 17, 2014 at 2:14 pm | #

        I didn’t mean to insinuate that you were being anti-semitic. But it is seems clear that you are using language of international conspiracy, quite explicitly and emphatically; you use the word “international organization” repeatedly and speak of Israeli “propaganda” and “para-organizations” and “Comintern methods.” Given the amount of anti-semitism that does exist in the anti-Zionist movement, I would personally give this sort of argument a wider berth if I were a justly respected anti-Zionist public intellectual like you, but that is obviously not your way and that choice does not make you anti-semitic in my view. You are alleging an Israeli international conspiracy, not a Jewish one.

        My view is that your allegation of a conspiracy or undue foreign influence (surely you won’t quibble with that characterization of your argument) misses the mark, as American Jewish institutions are quite open about their support for Israel and do not need secret Israeli infiltration to want to avoid the appearance of legitimizing the Israeli boycott. In particular, I think that many major American Jewish organizations would have the same policy.

        As for how this relates to ordinary practice on college campuses, my familiarity with college campuses is a little out of date. My recollection, and certainly my experience outside of universities, is that if students affiliate with a large organization for purposes of using their resources (ie money), the funders are going to exercise more or less control over your actions in the capacity as their affiliate. So, for example, I would expect an independent student group funded by the university to be able to invite any speaker they wanted, but I would expect a student group affiliated with the Catholic Church, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or Hillel International, to be subject to some editorial control from the parent organization whose name and/or money is going to be used.

        If that is a misunderstanding of the state of affairs in the typical university, I am willing to be corrected.

  5. BillR October 16, 2014 at 8:36 pm | #

    Hasbara trolls remind one of Trotskyike and Stalinist fanatics from the 30’s and 40’s from whose milieu came low-lifes like David Greenglass who lived another 6 decades after shoving his sister under the bus:

Leave a Reply