In a letter responding to criticism from the Zionist Organization of America, Hillel Executive Director Wayne Firesetone defended the decision to invite controversial speakers University of Pennsylvania President Amy Guttman and University of California, Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake to its Summit on the University and the Jewish Community March 24-26 in Washington.
The ZOA in a letter last week said Drake and Guttman both were inappropriate choices for speakers since they have been "insensitive to the needs and concerns of Jewish students."
Six of the nine pages of the ZOA letter were dedicated to detailing the "anti-Semitic speakers and programs" that are "routinely sponsored at UCI, causing Jewish students to feel threatened, harassed and intimidated."
Guttman was an inappropriate choice, the ZOA said, because she posed for a photo with a student dressed as a suicide bomber at a Halloween party at her home in 2006.
Firestone conceded the photo was "in poor taste," but defended Guttman's "otherwise excellent record" of promoting Jewish life on campus. With respect to Drake, Firestone said he also was concerned with the situation at the University of California, Irvine and had consulted with local Jewish leaders about the invitation.
"Like them, Hillel believes that a more constructive approach to Chancellor Drake is to engage him in conversation," Firestone wrote to the ZOA. "The Summit will provide such an opportunity."
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