March 29, 2023

Protestors Demonstrate For Democracy, Freedom At PU Jewish Center

“DEMOCRACY,” “SHAME”: About 60 demonstrators gathered outside the Princeton University Center for Jewish Life (CJL) on Monday evening to denounce anti-democratic forces in the Israeli government and at Princeton, as a right-leaning visiting professor was preparing to deliver a speech at the CJL.

By Donald Gilpin

As unrest in Israel reached a peak on Monday before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a pause in his efforts to gain control over the country’s judiciary, a crowd of 60 demonstrators outside the Princeton University Center for Jewish Life (CJL) voiced their opposition to the Israeli prime minister and to a visiting professor from Israel who was speaking at the CJL.

“Democracy” and “Shame,” the protestors chanted in English and in Hebrew, as they sang, waved Israeli flags, and carried placards stating “Save Israel’s Democracy,” “Democracy for Israelis and Palestinians,” “Save the Supreme Court,” and “Bibi — You are messing with the wrong women.”

Demonstrators, led by Princeton History Professor Yair Mintzker, claimed that Ronen Shoval, a Princeton University lecturer in politics and associate research scholar in the James Madison Program, espouses right-wing views akin to fascism. Shoval spoke Monday evening, March 27, as the demonstration was winding down, to a CJL gathering of about 50 on the subject of the reform of the Israeli judiciary.

He is the dean of the Tikvah Fund, which, Mintzker states, is a major supporter of an organization called the Kohelet Policy Forum, which, Mintzker claims, is “one of the main instigators of the ongoing judicial coup in Israel.” Shoval is teaching a freshman seminar at Princeton this term on Virtues and the Meaning of Life in Different Cultures.

Describing himself as “a strong proponent of free speech,” Mintzker did not urge interference with Shoval’s presentation, but he expressed dismay at Princeton University and the CJL’s support for the event and for Shoval.

Mintzker described the demonstration as “a marvelous success for the Princeton community so that they know who the man is and what he stands for.”

A March 21 letter from the executive board of Academia for Equity noted Shoval’s “support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to demolish the Israeli legal system” and expressed “grave concern over the use being made by Dr. Ronen Shoval of his affiliation with Princeton University as a visiting fellow of the James Madison Program this year.”

The University had no response to a request for comment on Shoval, but Director of Media Relations Michael Hotchkiss provided references to “the University’s approach to Academic Freedom and Free Expression,” including “Because the University is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn” (from its Statement on Freedom of Expression in the University’s Rights, Rules, Responsibilities).

in speaking to the demonstrators, Rabbi Gil Steinhauf, executive director of the CJL and Princeton University Jewish chaplain, encouraged the participants in speaking up for democracy. “We’re happy that you’re supporting democracy in Israel,” he said. “We know that this is a difficult moment for Israel. We know that this is a painful time for all Jewish people. We want to have our voices heard and we want to welcome you here. Make sure that your voices are heard tonight.”

Mintzker emphasized the Princeton gathering’s affinity with demonstrators in Israel and around the world. “Almost a million Israelis have taken to the streets fighting an attempted coup,” he said. “We stand in solidarity with them and they stand in solidarity with us. We are not alone.”

Interrupted frequently by cheers and chants from the crowd, Mintzker continued, “Today has been a historic day in the history of the state of Israel. Israel will not live under dictatorship. They will have democracy.”

Directing his comments towards Shoval and describing him as “the little bully who is about to speak tonight,” Mintzker added, “Shame on you, Ronen Shoval. You are not one of us. We reject you and your fascist thinking utterly and completely. Long live democracy. Long live universal human rights. Democracy for everyone.”