Editor’s Note: See Center for Jewish Life – Princeton Hillel statement below
I am a sophomore at Princeton University and a veteran of the IDF. When I recently asked to hang an Israeli flag in Princeton’s Hillel house – also known as the Center for Jewish Life, “CJL” – I was greeted with anything but an enthusiastic yes.
In response to my request, CJL leadership delayed, deliberated and ultimately resolved to hang a flag in the least public “common space” in the entire building. The flag will be visible to anyone visiting the printer, some faculty offices, or the bathroom at the end of the (upstairs) hallway. I repeatedly requested, both during and after deliberations, to fly the flag on the building’s main level, but those requests have been denied.
In February, the CJL advertised an event for Breaking the Silence – a rabidly anti-Israel organization that erroneously characterizes the IDF as evil and lawless. BtS has been widely discredited for presenting false information, exaggerations and conspiracy theories. Nonetheless, the CJL saw it fit to tacitly endorse BtS’s talk on their email server, adding that the program meets the standards of the CJL’s Israel Policy.
Spurred by the BtS event, I asked the CJL to hang an Israeli flag. Though I attended the event in the spirit of promoting difficult dialogues and free expression, I felt alienated and disrespected by the CJL’s endorsement. I wanted a clearer picture of where my Hillel stood on Israel. So, I asked for a flag– the baseline symbol of support for Israel’s existence.
The CJL’s refusal to prominently display the flag is even more perplexing when considering their Israel Policy Statement: “Hillel at Princeton University (CJL) is committed to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and a homeland of the Jewish people. We support Israel’s existence, legitimacy and security.”
If the CJL truly stands by this policy, why won’t they prominently display the flag of the Jewish people’s homeland?
I reject the supposition that hiding the flag in the upstairs back hallway is a necessary compromise made in the name of inclusivity.
Inclusivity is a two-way street. I, along with many other students, feel excluded by a Hillel that refuses to prominently display the Israeli flag.
The Israeli flag is the flag of the “homeland of the Jewish people.” Jews ought to be able to fly it prominently in a building called “The Center for Jewish Life,” particularly because the CJL is under the auspices of Hillel.
The issue at stake – whether a university Hillel House should refuse to prominently fly an Israeli flag – should be important to Zionists everywhere.
A flag, in its essence, is symbolic. Its placement is a direct reflection of its importance to a community. The CJL’s actions are emblematic of an ideology endemic to America’s college campuses: apologetic Zionism.
Jews today have the privilege and the right to fly our country’s flag with pride. If our Hillel houses are apologetic in their support for Israel, thousands of Jewish students will follow their lead.
I call on the CJL – an organization full of truly wonderful, hardworking people – to correct this misstep and to show its unapologetic support for Israel’s existence. I’ve already ordered the flag and pole. Will you let your actions speak for themselves?
This oped was originally published by the Jerusalem Post on April 25, 2021 and can be viewed here.
The writer is a student at Princeton University and served as a paratrooper in the IDF before his enrollment.
In response to the above opinion piece, the Center for Jewish Life – Princeton Hillel released the following statement:
“Center for Jewish Life – Princeton Hillel has chosen to hang an Israeli flag in our building as a recognition of our support for Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. CJL is committed to helping Princeton students build a connection to Israeli history, people and culture and its religious significance for the Jewish people.
As part of our mission, the CJL promotes a wide range of trips, lectures, seminars, and hands-on activities to cultivate connections with Israel that are well informed, personal, and transformational. We encourage students to engage with Israel through travel, dialogue, lectures, fellowships, internships, and through meaningful conversations with Israelis on campus, including the CJL Israel Fellow. Students can join one of our Israel-related student groups: Tigers for Israel, J Street U and TAMID, or participate in the Keller Center’s summer internship program in Tel Aviv. They can also participate in travel opportunities through our Birthright Israel trips and Inside Israel, a CJL organized trip led by Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Egypt, as well as the Tiger Trek experience focusing on the high-tech start-up industry.
The Israeli flag will hang on the second floor of the CJL opposite the main offices. This location will complement the existing depictions of the flag in the painting of Ben Gurion in first-floor lounge and a mural of Jerusalem in the CJL Dining Hall – both of which are located on the first floor of our building.”