WASHINGTON — A sparse crowd gathered at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., Tuesday night to hear from Hillel International CEO and President Eric Fingerhut. The talk, titled “Israel on Today’s Campus” was streamed online and is part of a series on Zionism sponsored by Hadassah the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.
Noticeably absent was any direct reference to the J Street U student protest the day prior, which sent hundreds of students marching down to Hillel International’s headquarters to demand an audience with Fingerhut. They were miffed that he backed out of a speaking engagement at the annual J Street conference, a mix-up he attributed to the presence of chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat at the gathering.
At Gallaudet, Fingerhut also didn’t mention the email he sent to Benjy Cannon, president of J Street U’s student board, agreeing to an on-the-record meeting with the group sometime in the future.
“Israel programming at Hillel is as broad and diverse as are the campuses on which we serve and the students that come to those campuses,” Fingerhut said in his opening remarks at Gallaudet. In an attempt to elaborate students’ diversity of opinions, he praised Hillel students at Cooper Union College for attending a speech made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Although a moderator fielded questions posed online, he did not answer this one: “How can you be proud of Cooper Union Hillel for attending the Abbas speech, when that speech could not happen inside a Hillel, since Abbas doesn’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state?”
Earlier this month, students at Swarthmore College, an elite liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, voted to reject Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership against welcoming those it deems are anti-Israel, anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist.
Questions from the in-person and virtual audience were submitted on notecards to the conversation facilitator, Samuel Morris, a student from nearby George Washington University. But the questions that made it into the final 40 minutes of the hour-long program treaded on extremely familiar territory: A parent wanted to know if his child should or should not attend a college tinged by anti-Semitism, while another participant wanted to know if Zionism for today’s students differs from their parents’ generation.
Multiple online viewers asked questions that referenced the J Street U protest outside of Hillel International headquarters in Washington, D.C. on Monday, but those questions were not shared.
“You reportedly said at NYU today that you look forward to working [with] J Street U, but ‘we have to know where the line is.’ What is this ‘line’?” asked one viewer. “Are you referring to Hillel’s Standards of Partnership?”
The complete session can be viewed online at new.livestream.com/Hadassah/events/3843473/videos/81465124.