Dear Mr. Fingerhut,
I urgently write you to reconsider your decision to refuse to speak at the upcoming JStreet conference. You are squandering an extraordinary opportunity to reach a substantial portion of our young people and sending a message of exclusion, that the young people attending the JStreet conference are not worthy nor are they welcome to be part of Hillel.
Personal views regarding Mr. Erekat notwithstanding, he has been a representative of the Palestinian people and authority representing them. He speaks with leaders around the world as such. But more importantly, it is not his legitimacy as a speaker nor his attendance at the JStreet event that is noteworthy, it is your absence. JStreet is not endorsing his viewpoint, only asking that he share it in a peaceful thoughtful way. His acceptance of the opportunity to speak is a chance for us to hear his point of view and possibly learn from it.
I dare say you do not agree with JStreet’s politics as well. This is also okay. Your appearance was intended as an opportunity to share your views and offer a message of support to our young people who are in a committed relationship with Israel. You were to be welcomed with respect and we looked to learn from you. Sadly with your withdrawal you have sent the message that those who disagree with you are not welcome in your tent, marginalizing a substantial portion of the Jewish student population. This reflects poorly on Hillel, the organization that is supposed to be the home of all Jewish students on campus, not only those who comport to a particular political viewpoint.
Democracy encourages diversity and through diversity comes strength. This is a fundamental tenet of all democracies. Although we have many different political views, we all are committed to Israel. Hopefully on that we can agree and then build. However, we must be able to respect the viewpoints of others even when those views diverge from our own. Welcoming you and listening to you, I might learn from what you hold as true, and likewise you from me. Your leadership, demonstrating a strong commitment to what you believe while willing to embrace and reach out to those who disagree, is critical at this juncture. Our young people need to hear your voice and they need to feel welcome as a fully authentic part of Clal Yisrael.
You need to be at the JStreet conference. I hope you will reconsider and join us.
Rabbi David M. Levin
God’s Miracle is not in the Thunder and Lightning but in people sheltering others from the storm