Convicted Terrorist to Keynote Anti-Israel Confab at Hyatt Hotel

Jewish community alarmed over hotel's decision to host

Rasmea Odeh
Rasmea Odeh / AP
March 10, 2017

A prominent hotel chain located in Chicago is coming under pressure from local Jewish community figures to cancel an upcoming conference hosted by an anti-Israel organization that supports boycotts of the Jewish state and that is set to have a convicted terrorist give a keynote speech.

The Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, located in downtown Chicago, has agreed to host later this month a conference organized by Jewish Voice for Peace, or JVP, an anti-Zionist organization that has spearheaded efforts in favor of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, or BDS, which seeks to wage economic warfare on the Jewish state.

One of the featured speakers at the conference will be Rasmea Odeh, who was convicted by Israel of engaging in terrorist bombings that killed and injured many. Odeh is currently locked in a battle with the U.S. immigration system over allegations that she lied about her ties to terrorism on immigration forms.

Also scheduled to speak is Linda Sarsour, a prominent anti-Israel activist who has lashed out at the Jewish state’s leaders in derogatory terms and once appeared to praise child terrorists on social media.

The inclusions of these speakers, as well as JVP’s long record of anti-Israel activism—which includes allegations of anti-Semitism—has raised concern in the local Chicago Jewish community, where leaders have long faced protests and other efforts by JVP supporters.

Some in the Jewish community are pushing for the Hyatt hotel to cancel the event. Multiple requests to Hyatt hotel officials for comment on their decision to host JVP and a convicted terrorist went unanswered.

Jay Tcath, executive vice president of the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, told the Washington Free Beacon that many in the pro-Israel community have been victims of JVP’s anti-Israel campaign.

"We are all too aware of both players," Tcath said, referring to JVP and Odeh.

JVP, Tcath recalled, has organized multiple protests against pro-Israel efforts, including one August 2014 protest in which JVP organized against a fundraiser to help the Jewish state during Hamas’s bombing campaign of Israeli citizens.

The conference and Odeh’s appearance are "just one more outrageous manifestation of JVP," Tcath said. "The fact they're bringing in a twice-convicted terrorist in Israel and in the States confessed murderer is outrageous, but not surprising."

Asked if there have been any efforts to make the Hyatt hotel aware of JVP’s reputation, Tcath said that top officials have been in contact with the Jewish community.

The Free Beacon could not independently verify this claim due to the Hyatt hotels failure to respond to multiple press inquiries.

"The top leadership of Hyatt is both aware fully of JVP and Odeh and who they are," Tcath said.

While it remains unclear if Hyatt will terminate the JVP conference, "I can assure you Hyatt management knows of both Odeh and JVP," according to Tcath.

The controversy over the matter also threatens to entangle Illinois gubernatorial hopeful J.B. Pritzker, a venture capitalist and heir to the Hyatt fortune.

Multiple emails to a top adviser for Pritzker about the situation concerning Hyatt and JVP were not returned.

Pritzker, who has poured millions of dollars into Democratic campaigns across the country, has touted his pro-Israel credentials and fundraising for Jewish community organizations as he considers his own gubernatorial bid.

However, his public silence as JVP hosts an anti-Israel conference in his own backyard threatens to harm relations with the local Jewish community.

One Illinois Jewish community leader who requested anonymity in discussing Pritzker told the Free Beacon that the Democrat is likely to face an uphill battle with pro-Israel voters as he seeks to unseat current Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

"JB Pritzker is going to be fighting to convince a lot of pro-Rauner North Shore Jews that he's a better alternative for governor and that'll be hard when his two qualifications for office is that he obeys [Democratic] Speaker Mike Madigan's every command and allows Palestinian terrorists to roam freely at his hotels," the source said. "Rauner is standing up to Madigan and leading the charge against BDS. I'm Jewish in Illinois, why would I ever side with Pritzker."