Dear President Magill,
We, the undersigned alumni and supporters of the University of Pennsylvania, are writing to express our deep concerns regarding the platforming of known antisemitic speakers at the upcoming Palestine Writes Literature Festival, which is scheduled to be held on campus this weekend, just before the start of Yom Kippur.
While we embrace academic freedom and support the Festival’s stated goals of celebrating Palestinian literature, art, and culture, we are deeply concerned about the many scheduled speakers at the upcoming event who have a history of antisemitic rhetoric, actions, and hostility towards Jewish people. The fact that University of Pennsylvania academic departments are co-sponsoring the Festival and its platforming of outright antisemitism without denunciation from the university is unacceptable.
At a time when we are experiencing record levels of anti-Jewish hate across the country and an unprecedented surge of antisemitic incidents on U.S. college campuses, providing a platform for such extremely antisemitic voices will undermine the sense of security and belonging for Jewish students at UPenn and beyond.
The University of Pennsylvania should be doing all within its power to distance itself from the event’s antisemitic speakers, make clear that such antisemitism is wholly at odds with the university’s values, and take proactive steps to ensure that Jewish students, faculty, and staff are safe and welcome at Penn. Neither academic freedom nor freedom-of-speech principles prevent the university from using its own voice to speak out against antisemitism wherever and whenever it occurs, especially on campus.
Such steps should include, at a minimum:
1. Issue a clear and unequivocal statement specifically denouncing the event’s platforming of known antisemitic speakers. Display the same forcefulness here as the University of Pennsylvania would in response to any event seeped in anti-Black racism, anti-Asian hate, or anti-LGBTQ+ bias. We do not believe that UPenn’s actions and statements to date are sufficient, as evidenced by the outpouring of concern from all who have reached out. Unfortunately, without stronger leadership from campus administrators, antisemitism has and will continue to find a home in academia by those who allow antisemitic beliefs to be couched in anti-Israel or anti-Zionist fig leaves.
2. Ensure, to the maximum extent possible, that the Festival does not use the University of Pennsylvania brand or indicate that the University of Pennsylvania in any way endorses or supports the event.
3. Ask that the University of Pennsylvania departments and units co-sponsoring the Festival clarify what their co-sponsorship means and distance themselves from the antisemitic speakers who will be featured at the event. How did this event, featuring close to two dozen speakers with long histories of hateful antisemitic and anti-Zionist rhetoric, receive UPenn departmental support? We would hope that these departments would either revoke their co-sponsorship or clearly denounce and distance themselves from the antisemitic speakers who will be featured at the event. And moving forward, we would request that all University of Pennsylvania academic departments and units re-examine their policies and protocols for reviewing and approving co-sponsorship opportunities.
4. Develop and implement mandatory antisemitism awareness training across the University, including in new student orientation programming and DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) programming – for students, faculty, and staff. Such training should include the various forms in which antisemitism manifests on college campuses across the country, and best practices for preventing and responding to it.
As alumni and supporters of University of Pennsylvania, we value its reputation and remain steadfast in our commitment to upholding its values. We ask that you take the steps above to ensure the same.
We await your reply.
Rabbi Gabe Greenberg
Elsie Sterling Howard
K. Bobby Turner
Aerin Lauder Zinterhofer
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