May 28, 2007
Hilton boycott organizers claim victory as Palestinian ‘right of return’ conclave in O. C. attracts
[MAY 29] -- The fifth international conference by Al-Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, showed poor attendance last weekend, drawing about 50 people to their O.C. event, Jewish observers said.
The "Uniting for the Return" conference was held May 25-27 at the Hilton Embassy Suites Hotel in Garden Grove after organizers moved it from UC Riverside earlier last week.
"We feel that this group has been marginalized," said Esther Renzer, national president of StandWithUs. "We'll continue to keep an eye on them."
The three-day conference featured speakers, workshops and a "nakba [catastrophe] memorial service," according to the group's Web site.
Al-Awda, whose name means "the return," describes itself as the "largest network of grass-roots activists and students dedicated to Palestinian human rights."
The Al-Awda conference was originally scheduled to be held at UC Riverside, but was moved on May 20.
Lee Kaplan, founder of Stop the ISM (Israel Solidarity Movement), reported in FrontPage Magazine that Al-Awda "student organizers advised [James Sandoval, UC Riverside vice chancellor for student affairs,] 'without explanation' that the event was being canceled."
Kaplan wrote that Sandoval objected to an element on the Al-Awda Web site that stated the conference reserved the right to decline any reservation. "Public taxpayer-supported universities cannot bar people from events because of their ethnicity or point of view as long as they behave in a lawful manner," Kaplan wrote.
Kaplan told The Journal that he had shown cached pages of Al-Awda's Web site to Sandoval. He said the pages included links to the Nazi Party and sites propagating the blood libel myth.
"I showed the chancellor the links on Saturday, and he wrote me back an e-mail on Sunday telling me about the cancellation," he said.
Calls made to Sandoval seeking comment were not returned.
Al-Awda last met on the the Riverside campus in 2006 for a statewide meeting to discuss Israel divestment strategies. That event drew more than 100 attendees.
Moving the conference off campus "unquestionably" affected attendance, Kaplan told The Journal.
"The reason Al-Awda does this on a university campus is to attract students to their fold," he said. "They do it on their campus because it's cheaper; the California taxpayer has to pay for it."
Al-Awda held its third international conference at UCLA in 2005 and its fourth conference at San Francisco State University in 2006.
Kaplan hoped the cancellation was a harbinger to getting groups like Al-Awda kicked off campus.
An online boycott of Hilton Hotels (http://www.petitiononline.com/hh052507/petition.html), which owns Embassy Suites, the site of the relocated conference, was coordinated with Stop the ISM and yielded some 400 signatures.
"For 50 Al-Awda participants, they lost 400 customers," Kaplan said.
Jewish group calls for Hilton boycott after O. C. hotel books Palestinian 'right of return' event
[MAY 25] -- A Jewish group is calling for a boycott of the Hilton Hotel group, which this week is hosting an Orange County conference sponsored by Al-Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition (PRRC).
Kaplan urged the Hilton Hotels to cancel the conference and warned that various Jewish organizations and pro-Israel groups would organize a boycott of the Hilton Hotels chain.