Palestinian activist cancels Hillel speech due to heckling

    Palestinian activist Bassem Eid cancelled a speech at Hillel Sunday due to the presence of a man who heckled him at previous engagements.

    “He did not feel there was an environment that he could present his views in a free and open way,” said Michael Simon, executive director of Northwestern Hillel, adding that a few men at the event verbally accosted Eid before it began.

    Disruptions are not uncommon for Eid's speeches. Recently, at a University of Chicago event, audience members shouted things like “Do not speak on behalf of the Palestinian[s] again” and questioned his work as a human rights activist.

    In response, Northwestern Hillel moved its event to the Hillel house and restricted access to only Northwestern students with WildCARDs and select high school students. That said, according to certain tweets, outside visitors planned to attend. Nader Ihmoud, who could not be found in the student directory, posted critically about the event Sunday afternoon.

    Eid is a Palestinian human rights activist who founded the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring group and lives in Jerusalem. He supports a two-state solution and was also a field researcher for B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories and speaks at universities across the country about the Israel-Palestine conflict. Sunday's event was organized by Hillel and the Jewish Federation’s Israel Education Center to provide a “unique perspective on the situation in Israel and the plight of the Palestinian people in the Middle East,” according to the Facebook event.

    Northwestern students were disappointed by the cancellation.

    “I am sad to hear that he felt unsafe or uncomfortable," said SESP senior Jacqueline Soria, who planned to attend.

    “We thought that he’d provide an interesting voice to students," said Weinberg senior Nathan Bennett, who helped organize the event. “I’m disappointed that someone who was planning to speak didn’t because of somebody who’s disrupting his events. Not everyone necessarily agrees with Mr. Eid’s political opinions, but we had hoped that he would at least be able to speak and begin an effective dialogue.”

    Simon, the Hillel director, agreed, tempering the cancellation with optimism.

    “I was actually pleased to see students who I think have very diverse and even divergent viewpoints coming together in the room,” he said. “My hope is that we have more opportunities like that.”


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