AEN calls on Princeton University president to reject boycott vote

The referendum pushed by the university's student government urges the school to stop using Caterpillar machinery for construction because of their use in the demolition of Palestinian homes.

People walk around the Princeton University campus in New Jersey, November 16, 2013. (photo credit: REUTERS/EDUARDO MUNOZ)
People walk around the Princeton University campus in New Jersey, November 16, 2013.
(photo credit: REUTERS/EDUARDO MUNOZ)

The Academic Engagement Network (AEN), an independent organization that aims to combat anti-Israel bias and promote free speech at US universities, on Monday called on the president of Princeton University, Christopher Eisgruber, to reject a boycott referendum that students are set to vote on this week.

Several notable people serving on AEN's Advisory Board include Deborah Lipstadt, Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, Irwin Cotler, Donna Shalala, Steven Pinker and Lawrence Summers.

The referendum pushed by the university's student government urges the school to stop using Caterpillar machinery for construction because of their use in the demolition of Palestinian homes in the West Bank.

The referendum said that Caterpillar must be boycotted because of "the violent role that Caterpillar machinery has played in the mass demolition of Palestinian homes, the murder of Palestinians and other innocent people, and the promotion of the prison-industrial complex."

A statement from AEN said that although the referendum does not explicitly reference the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, "the explanation submitted by its main sponsor, the Princeton Committee on Palestine, makes it clear that the impetus for this referendum is to situate the campus within the global anti-Israel BDS movement."

Caterpillar road grader 370 (credit: REUTERS)Caterpillar road grader 370 (credit: REUTERS)

"From our vantage point, we are increasingly concerned that this unbridled hatred of Israel is undermining the mission of the academy," AEN Advisory Board Chair Mark Yudof, Executive Director Miriam Elman and Managing Director Josh Suchoff wrote to Eisgruber. "While most US campuses are not awash in antisemitism, recent trends point to an increasingly challenging climate for Jewish students, especially those for whom Zionism is an integral part of their identity and their ethnic and ancestral heritage. We note with urgency that student activism around BDS is inimical to the inclusive, tolerant, and respectful learning community to which you and so many other university leaders aspire. Should the proposed measure pass, we call on you to reject it and to reaffirm your commitment to ensuring that Princeton remains a welcoming and inclusive learning environment for Jewish and all students."

The AEN statement noted that BDS can promote prejudice against Jews and potentially marginalize Jewish students on college campuses.

"Quite frankly, BDS creates divisions and polarizes the campus," the signatories wrote to Eisgruber. "Indeed, research that we recently released shows that pro-BDS student activism leads to a marked increase in antisemitic incidents and bias reporting on campus. While many well-meaning people gravitate to BDS believing that it offers a means for advancing social justice and peace in the Middle East, the reality is that this movement is reactionary and fundamentally illiberal."