PA negotiator Saeb Erekat. (Abir Sultan/Flash90) PA negotiator Saeb Erekat. (Abir Sultan/Flash90)
Saeb Erekat

Should Jewish leaders appear on a panel with an Israel-basher? Hillel International says no, J Street says yes.

Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of Hillel International, the world’s largest Jewish organization on campus, decided not to participate in the upcoming left-wing J Street conference after learning that Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) chief negotiator for the failed U.S-brokered peace talks with Israel, was also invited.

Erekat is known for his sharp anti-Israel rhetoric, which is what influenced Fingerhut’s decision, the Hillel president explained.

“Over the weekend, J Street listed me as a speaker at their upcoming conference.  They did this with the permission of my office. I have concluded that I should not participate in the conference. I regret the inconvenience I have caused,” he said in a statement released on Monday.

“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 (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel) and anti-Semitism on college campuses and to urge everyone to take up this crucial cause,” he said.

“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,” he added, referring to Erekat.

Erekat Compares Israel to Islamic State

Erekat recently compared Israel to the Islamic State (ISIS) terror organization and blamed Israel and the US for ISIS’ extremism. There is “no difference between the terrorism practiced by Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s gang [ISIS] and Israeli terrorism,” Erekat stated on PA TV in February.

He apologized to the students who looked forward to his appearance and thanked those who have been active in the fight against the BDS movement.

Open Hillel, a breakaway organization, condemned Fingerhut’s decision to “boycott the J Street Conference.”

“His decision to go back on his commitment to speak to over 1,000 students because of the presence of a voice with whom he does not agree is cowardly and hypocritical,” a statement on the organization’s blog read. “Hillel International sends a strong message to students who oppose Israel’s occupation.”

The J Street U Student Board stated it was deeply “frustrated by the decision.”

“As students gather from over 100 campuses across the United States, we are looking forward to attending the conference and leading a movement of motivated, passionate students to fight for Israel’s future and an end to the occupation. It is a loss for Mr. Fingerhut and a shame for Hillel International that he will not be there with us,” the J Street student body said in a statement.

“Eric is the head of Hillel International,” Hillel’s chief administrative officer, David Eden, told JTA. “We hold our organization to a rigorous standard for the types of events he will participate in. That’s something the entire Hillel community expects, not just our students, but our board.”

Eden added that Fingerhut had been unaware that Erekat was addressing the conference when he gave J Street permission to list him as a speaker.

By: Aryeh Savir
Staff Writer, United with Israel