In what campus pro-Israel activists are hailing as a victory for “reason,” Princeton University students voted to defeat a referendum that would have backed a pro-Palestinian group’s objections to a brand of hummus owned in part by an Israeli company.
Students voted 1,014 to 699 last week to reject a referendum that would have asked university retail outlets to provide an alternative to Sabra-brand hummus. Sabra is manufactured under a partnership between Israel’s Strauss Group and PepsiCo.
Supporters of the referendum say Strauss supports human rights abuses by Israel’s military, while critics of the referendum called it a stealth effort in the campaign to boycott Israel.
“Despite the confusing language of the referendum, which was really not about choice but was a ludicrous attempt to delegitimize the State of Israel, we are thrilled with the results,” Addie Lerner, co-vice president of Tigers for Israel, told NJJN. “The Princeton University community understood what this is really about and stood up to make a statement in support of Israel.”
The vote, which drew international media attention, was initiated by the Princeton Committee on Palestine.
Strauss donates to soldiers in the elite Israel Defense Forces Golani brigade, providing care packages, sports equipment, books, games, and pocket money for underprivileged members, according to the corporate website.
PCP was inspired by Philly BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions), which charged that the Golani Brigade “routinely violates human rights and international law standards.”
PCP president Yoel Bitran, who is Jewish, wrote in the campus’ student newspaper, the Daily Princetonian, that his group “objects to the fact that Sabra is the only hummus brand that is offered in most university stores and that students who wish to eat this traditional Arab food are forced to buy a product that is connected to human rights abuses against Arab civilians.”
Bitran did not return an NJJN e-mail request for an interview.
Mendy Fisch, copresident of the student board at the university’s Center for Jewish Life/Hillel, said that although the center seeks to remain nonpolitical, it issued a statement urging students to consider the political implications of the referendum.
“Anyone watching all the coverage of the referendum would think it was more about consumer choice,” said the public policy major from Princeton, citing the jocular tone some media outlets took in their coverage.
“Someone reading the ballot and who was not informed about the reasoning behind it might vote for it for the wrong reasons, and we were worried about its passage,” explained Fisch. “We wanted to make students aware it was part of a broader national campus campaign.”
Lerner, a senior public policy major focusing on the Middle East, said Tigers for Israel mounted a vigorous campaign over a two-week period.
“We tried to get our message across as respectfully as possible,” she said. “The national BDS movement has utterly failed in their attempt to trick Princeton students into starting down the path of delegitimizing the Jewish state.”
Added Lerner: “The Princeton pro-Israel community looks forward to driving discussion toward a more academic and intellectual discourse on more pressing matters, such as the ongoing negotiations between the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority, to bring lasting peace to the region. Reasonable people can and should be able to disagree about these important questions.”
University spokesperson Cass Cliatt said only hummus made from scratch is served at university dining halls, and the referendum applied only to hummus sold at campus retail outlets.
She said the dining services administrators met with Palestinian committee representatives and will keep up an ongoing dialogue to determine what best meets the needs of all students.