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Conservative Israeli scholar at Princeton target of cancel culture campaign

Campaign’s ‘primary aim is to marginalize conservative voices within academia,’ scholar says

An Israeli scholar passionate about defending his homeland has been accused of being a fascist who does not deserve a lecturer position at Princeton University by some scholars and students.

Ronen Shoval, who taught a freshman seminar this spring titled “Virtues and the Meaning of Life in Different Cultures,” has been the target of criticism throughout the spring semester.

The appointment of Shoval, dean of Tikvah Fund and head of the Argaman Institute, was the target of a scathing rebuke by two Princeton professors in an opinion piece for the student newspaper the Daily Princetonian.

“With his appointment as Scholar and Lecturer, Ronen Shoval is now free to use his University affiliation to further advance his hateful agenda,” the coauthors wrote in their April 25 op-ed.

Eldar Shafir, professor in behavioral science and public policy, and Uri Hasson, professor of psychology and neuroscience, called on the university “to revisit their procedures for inviting visitors to teach on campus.”

Prior to that, in late March, Shoval was met with protestors while speaking at a two-part series on Israeli judicial reform at Princeton. Demonstrators reportedly chanted “he’s a fascist,” “shame” and “democracy” in Hebrew outside of Shoval’s talk, which was in support of proposed Israeli judicial reforms.

The student newspaper recounts that several audience members also tried to “interrupt and dispute” Shoval’s claims throughout the talk.

Shoval, in an email to The College Fix on May 5, voiced frustration regarding the hostilities.

“When individuals resort to unsubstantiated and malevolent allegations, they often evade addressing the opposing party’s viewpoint. Resorting to ad hominem attacks is an attempt to stifle and exclude individuals and their ideas,” said Shoval.

He described the professors’ op-ed as exemplifying “a broader, disconcerting phenomenon whose primary aim is to marginalize conservative voices within academia.”

“Rather than embracing and promoting a pluralistic dialogue of diverse ideas, efforts have been made to construct a progressive echo chamber—a development that can only be met with disappointment,” Shoval said.

The university did not respond to requests for comment from The College Fix.

One of the main points of contention against Shoval centers on his involvement in a group that he has not been associated with for a decade.

In their op-ed, Shafir and Hasson focused on Shoval’s founding of Im Tirtzu, “a non-profit organization working to strengthen the values of Zionism in Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” according to the organization’s website.

Im Tirtzu, started in 2006, now claims to be “Israel’s largest and most influential grassroots organization,” with 20 campus branches, 6,000 volunteer activists and a large social media following in the Hebrew-language.

Shoval left Im Tirtzu in 2013, but critics still associate him with the group sometimes labeled “ultra-nationalist.”

“As described by the media, politicians and civil rights groups, and numerous scholars, Shoval is the founder of an ultranationalist Israeli group that has waged campaigns of intimidation and harassment against prominent human rights organizations, academic departments, authors, artists, and scholars across Israel for years,” Shafir and Hasson wrote.

“Shoval says he departed the group in 2013. Yet, before his departure, the organization was described by experts testifying in an Israeli court as having aspects in common with fascism,” they continued.

But Shoval personally spoke out against fascism in a March 2023 interview with the Daily Princetonian, stating: “I hate fascism. I see fascism as dangerous for the world. And I disagree completely with the message of fascism with all my heart.”

The campaign against Shoval has its detractors, too, such as author Yoram Hazony, a leader of the U.S. national conservatism movement.

“Campaign at Princeton to dismiss a conservative Israeli lecturer @ShovalRonen because ‘experts testified’ he led a student organization that had ‘aspects in common with fascism.’ You can find ‘experts’ who’ll say the same thing about every conservative,” he tweeted May 2.

IMAGE: Princeton fires tenured professor who criticized black terrorism

IMAGE: Jay Yuan / Shutterstock

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About the Author
Margaret Peppiatt - Franciscan University of Steubenville