J Street U National Board: Fingerhut’s Decision A Loss for Hillel International

March 9, 2015

The J Street U Student Board is deeply frustrated by the decision of Hillel International President Eric Fingerhut to pull out of the upcoming J Street National Conference.

We invited Mr. Fingerhut to engage with over 1000 students at the student plenary session of the conference. After agreeing to speak–for the first time in a public forum with J Street U students–he chose to pull out, citing objections to the other featured speakers. 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.

At J Street, we try to create opportunities to listen, engage and tackle difficult issues across differences. We do not insist that everyone we speak with agree with us. We do not endorse the views of all those who speak at our conference.

We know that progress towards ending the occupation and achieving the two-state solution necessary to secure Israel’s Jewish and democratic future requires that type of substantive engagement. That same commitment has brought Vice President Joe Biden, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and leaders of every leading Israeli and American political party to our conference. That is why we are proud to have the chief Palestinian negotiator, a Republican former Secretary of State, a former head of the Shin Bet, the President of the Union for Reform Judaism and six Knesset members at this year’s conference.

Mr. Fingerhut has demonstrated that he does not share these ideals. He has been invited to speak at several past gatherings, and has declined. This decision was not about other speakers at our conference. It was about whether or not to engage with pro-Israel, pro-peace students. Mr. Fingerhut had a choice: to prioritize the needs of students and the campus professionals we work closely with every day or, to bow to the demands of donors and activists on the far right who may criticize him for appearing at a J Street Conference.

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.