Harassment concerns prompt Palestinian activist to leave Northwestern without speaking at event

Madeline Fox, Campus Editor

Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid left Fiedler Hillel without speaking at a planned event Sunday due to concerns that his talk would be disrupted.

Eid, founder of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, was brought to campus in coordination with the Israel Education Center as part of a series of speaking engagements at Chicago-area universities over the past week, said Hillel executive director Michael Simon. His event at the University of Chicago on Thursday evening was disrupted by individuals shouting at him and insulting him in Arabic and English, as shown in a video of the event. The DePaul University event Saturday evening was also disrupted, DePaul organizers said.

Eid did not respond to a request to comment Monday.

Eid’s organization monitors human rights violations by both Israel and the Palestinian National Authority. He has been opposed to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, saying it harms Palestinians.

In response to the disruption at the University of Chicago, Simon said, organizers of the NU event decided to move the event from its original location in the Technological Institute to Fiedler Hillel and to admit only individuals with valid WildCARDs. However, several people arrived before organizers were set up to check WildCARDs, he said, and went upstairs to the room where the event was to take place.

Simon said Eid recognized at least one person from the incident at DePaul the previous evening, and left Fiedler Hillel because he said he felt he did not have a safe space to present his perspective.

“The fact that a speaker, because of the environment he senses, would feel that he didn’t have a space in which he could present and have free and open dialogue is tremendously disappointing,” Simon said. “It flies in the face of our commitment to offer place for free and open exchange of ideas, which is really important to Northwestern Hillel and Northwestern overall.”

The organizers of the DePaul event had also taken precautions following the University of Chicago event, said Ben Cohen, co-president of Students Supporting Israel, a group at DePaul that helped organize Eid’s appearance. They checked student IDs at the door and switched their Q&A portion to questions audience members wrote on notecards rather than spoken questions because the University of Chicago disruption had occurred during the Q&A portion, Cohen said.

However, several students became vocal during the DePaul event, he said. One student, in response to a question asking how to combat the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement on DePaul’s campus, shouted “F—ing join SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine)” before swearing in Arabic, Cohen said. Another student accused Eid of not being a “real Palestinian” because of his opinions, while a third stood up periodically to shout things like “This is only one person’s opinion,” Cohen said.

Although the NU Hillel organizers had not spoken to groups at the other two universities about the event, Nathan Bennett, the Israel Education Center intern at NU Hillel who helped coordinate Eid’s visit, said he did talk to members of the Chicago-area Israel Education Center who had also organized Eid’s visits to the other two campuses. Those events, along with Eid’s own concerns, informed the NU Hillel organizers’ decision to move the event and make it exclusive to the NU community, he said.

Bennett said although he was disappointed that Eid felt he could not speak at NU, he does not think it will affect how Hillel will organize events in the future.

“We want to continue to bring speakers who will encourage lively dialogue and engagement with Israel-related issues, and I don’t think that one event disrupted by people not from NU is going to change our interest in doing so,” the Weinberg senior said.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @maddycfox