Jewish Federations President and CEO Eric Fingerhut delivered a powerful and inspiring speech to the City Club in Cleveland Friday, calling for steadfast support for Israel in its war against Hamas and vigilance in the ongoing fight against rising antisemitism.
Invoking his own history growing up in Cleveland, representing Ohio as a Member of Congress, and serving as the Chancellor of the Ohio Department of Education’s Board of Regents, Fingerhut urged the civic leaders to “speak up plainly and without equivocation about what happened in our world on October 7th” and to “acknowledge equally plainly what must be done in response” to safeguard Israel and protect Jewish people in America.
Fingerhut compared the atrocities perpetrated by Hamas on October 7th to the genocidal acts committed by the Nazis and said that Israel’s war against Hamas is akin to our country’s efforts to eliminate Al Qaeda and ISIS for their brutal and barbaric acts. "The war Israel is waging in Gaza,” Fingerhut noted, is to accomplish one goal, and one goal only – to eliminate the military and terrorist infrastructure that planned and executed the attacks on October 7th. They are doing this so that another October 7th can never happen again."
To cope with the tremendous spike in antisemitism and anti-Zionism here at home in the wake of the war, Fingerhut advocated a policy of zero tolerance against those who attack, harass, and intimidate American Jews and those who support us in our struggle against terrorism, hatred, intolerance, and evil.
University campuses, Fingerhut said, are ground zero for antisemitism right now, with Jewish students afraid to attend classes or participate in Hillel. He said that the time has come for everyone from major donors to universities to prospective students to evaluate academic institutions according to their record in creating a safe space for all their students to live, learn, and grow.
"College campuses,” he suggested, are “the most troubling sector of our society seeing the dramatic rise in antisemitism...Everyone must insist that higher education contribute positively to building and sustaining civil society, and not be allowed to ignore destructive behaviors."
What makes him optimistic, Fingerhut said, is his reflection on the success of the March for Israel in the nation’s capital in November, which attracted 300,000 people of all faiths and backgrounds, and showed the tremendous depth of support for Israel and for American Jews by the top political leaders in our nation.
Fingerhut concluded by explaining that this week we are celebrating Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, which calls on Jews to bring light into the world. This year, he said, we will light more candles, not fewer, despite the hatred that has exploded against Jews. And we will do so, he said, with our heads held high, knowing that, ultimately, rightness and justice will prevail.