Jewish Journal


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).

PRRC describes itself as the "largest network of grass-roots activists and students dedicated to Palestinian human rights."

"Uniting for the Return: Fifth Annual International Al-Awda Convention," is taking place at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Garden Grove May 25-27.

"The date of the convention commemorates the Nakba, the 59th year since the 'State of Israel' was declared on stolen Palestinian land, and which led to the Zionist occupation of all of Palestine," the Al-Awda Web site stated.

The three-day conference will feature speakers, workshops, a Nakba memorial service and will to develop action plans for students, artists and media interested in promoting the right to return.

A "Say no to Al Awda Conference on Hilton Property" online petition (http://www.petitiononline.com/hh052507/petition.html) was started by Stop the ISM (Israel Solidarity Movement) founder Lee Kaplan.

"To Hilton Hotels," the petition begins. "Embassy Suites Hotel -- Anaheim South, in Garden Grove CA, has been engaged by the organization Al Awda to host its 'Fifth Annual International Convention' May 25-27, 2007. This organization aids and abets the complete destruction of the State of Israel ... this is a virulently anti-Semitic organization, as evidenced by their members demonstrating in San Francisco, waving 'Palestinian' flags and chanting 'Palestine is ours and the Jews are our dogs!' in Arabic," the petition states. "We petition the Hilton Hotels International: Do not let this happen: cancel the contract now."

Lee KaplanAccording to Kaplan (photo, left) , the conference was originally to be held and University of California, Riverside, but was cancelled "without explanation," Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs James Sandoval. told Kaplan, according to Kaplan's article in FrontPage Magazine. Kaplan hailed the seemingly random cancellation as a "powerful blow" to the anti-Israel movement on American campuses. "While Sandoval maintained that the cancellation of the event was the decision of the student organizers that included the Students for Justice in Palestine and Muslim Students Union at UC Riverside, both International Solidarity Movement-affiliated groups, the UC Riverside administration deserves praise for setting up ground rules that obviously made the event too risky for the organizers to conduct on campus," Kaplan says, noting that the rules included opening the event up to the public, the media and providing outside security.

Kaplan says the rules included opening the event up to the public, the media and providing outside security.

Calls seeking comment from Kaplan, Sandoval and Hilton Hotels were not returned.

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.

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