It takes 11 minutes to walk from the offices of Hillel International in Washington, DC to the DC Convention Center, where this year’s fifth J Street Conference will be held. In fact, three of the first four were held there as well. Despite this, Wayne Firestone, the previous president of Hillel, never could find it within himself to attend the conference.
But there’s a new sheriff in town, right? Current Hillel President Eric Fingerhut had planned to attend the upcoming J Street Conference. (March 21-24. Several Jewschoolers will be there, so stay tuned.) This was cause for some excitement (especially among member and supporters of J Street U and Open Hillel, as well as more open-minded Hillel professionals and student leaders).
But yesterday Fingerhut backed out. Here’s what he had to say for himself:
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.
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. 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.
I apologize to the students who looked forward to my appearance, and especially thank those among them who have been active in the fight against BDS. I will seek out other opportunities to meet with them. I welcome J Street U students as members of the entire Hillel family and I know that our campus Hillel professionals do as well.
Apparently, he couldn’t possibly be seen speaking at the same conference as Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat — as JTA reports:
Asked by JTA what speaker at the March 21-24 conference triggered the pullout, Hillel’s chief administrative officer, David Eden, named Erekat, noting his inflammatory statements in the past. In recent months, Erekat has compared Israel to the Islamic State, or ISIS, the terrorist group battling a U.S.-led alliance. Eden also noted that the State Department has condemned such statements.
While the State Department has rebuked Erekat for some of his statements, it still deals with him as the chief Palestinian negotiator, and Israeli negotiators for years have accepted him as an interlocutor, even while complaining that he periodically makes outlandish claims about Israeli actions.
Here’s the key line. Again, JTA:
Eden said Erekat’s presence at the J Street conference nonetheless did not meet Hillel’s standards.
Mhm. Standards indeed.
So, Hillel now applies their Standards of Partnership to events held by others. And if they’re found wanting? Well, Hillel simply takes their ball and goes home.