Hillel CEO Fingerhut drops out of J Street conference due to other speakers

The list of speakers in the upcoming J Street national conference, which still includes Hillel International CEO Eric Fingerhut (top row of headshots, far right). Credit: Screenshot from Jstreet.org.

(JNS.org) After being listed as a speaker for the upcoming national conference of the left-wing J Street lobby, Hillel International President and CEO Eric Fingerhut announced Monday that he will pull out of the conference due to concerns regarding other speakers' history of "inflammatory statements" against Israel.

The current list of J Street conference speakers includes Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that collapsed in the spring of 2014. Erekat has called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “filthy war criminal.” He has also said that the internationally recognized terrorist organization Hamas is “a political, not a terrorist movement."

Another controversial J Street conference speaker is James Baker, the U.S. secretary of state under former president George H.W. Bush. In the 1980s, Baker barred Netanyahu (who was then a senior Israeli foreign policy official) from the State Department in response to Netanyahu's criticism of American policy on the Middle East. Baker is also widely known to have said, "F**k the Jews, they didn't vote for us anyway."

Other speakers slated for the March 21-24 conference include Israeli politicians and activists, both Jewish and Arab, as well as two U.S. House of Representatives members who boycotted Netanyahu's March 3 speech to Congress—Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).

“My desire to attend the [J Street] 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) and anti-Semitism on college campuses, and to urge everyone to take up this crucial cause," Hillel's Fingerhut, who heads a campus umbrella organization with a presence at 550 colleges and universities, 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.”

Fingerhut said he regrets "the inconvenience" caused by his decision to pull out of the gathering, while thanking prospective J Street conference attendees "who have been active in the fight against BDS." Referencing J Street's campus arm, he said, "I welcome J Street U students as members of the entire Hillel family and I know that our campus Hillel professionals do as well.”

Posted on March 9, 2015 .