Hillel International CEO Eric Fingerhut withdrew Monday from participation in the upcoming J Street Conference in Washington.
“My desire to attend the conference was based on my wish to speak at a student-only session directly with the students who will be in attendance, to thank those who have joined in the fight against BDS and anti-Semitism on college campuses, and to urge everyone to take up this crucial cause,” Fingerhut said in a statement. “However, after reviewing the full list of speakers, I now realize that any benefit that might come from this opportunity would be overshadowed by concerns regarding my participation amongst other speakers who have made highly inflammatory statements against the Jewish state.”
One speaker that was unacceptable to Fingerhut was former Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, said David Eden, Hillel’s chief administrative officer. He blamed Erekat for “inflammatory statements against the Jewish state.”
Erekat has compared Israel to the Islamic State and threatened an economic boycott against Israel, Eden said. “Eric holds participation in events to a rigorous standard.”
The J Street Conference is scheduled for March 22-24 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. It is the dovish pro-Israel group’s fifth such gathering.
Updated Tuesday March 10: The event will focus on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, settlements and peacemaking with the Palestinians. The conference will close with an advocacy day on Capitol Hill.
J Street did not respond to a request for a comment. But its college group, J Street U, issued a statement, which noted, “The speakers were clear to Mr. Fingerhut before he confirmed and Mr. Fingerhut was not being asked to share a podium with anyone he might find objectionable. The audience of students deeply committed to Israel’s future was his to engage.”
The dovish, pro-Israel Americans for Peace Now called Fingerhut’s decision “misguided, odd and damaging.”
In a statement, president and CEO Debra DeLee wrote, “Erekat has spent hundreds if not thousands of hours negotiating with Israeli and American officials, but somehow he is not ‘kosher’ enough to be on the same conference program as the president of Hillel.” She urged Fingerhut to reconsider his decision.