StandWithUs International is deeply troubled by the upcoming “Palestine Writes Literature Festival,” which is to be hosted at the University of Pennsylvania (UPENN). This event is taking place from September 22nd-24th 2023, beginning before Shabbat and ending immediately before the beginning of Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. While the festival is advertised as an annual celebration of Palestinian culture, this year's speaker list includes individuals known for promoting antisemitism and anti-Israel hate, such as Marc Lamont Hill, Roger Waters, Noura Erekat, and more.
Jewish communities both on and off campus are extremely concerned about the consequences of such figures appearing on campus and being sponsored by university departments. There is a significant difference between celebrating one's culture and providing a platform for individuals who are known for promoting antisemitism and anti-Israel hatred. Indeed, celebrating one community should never involve promoting bigotry against another.
While it is important to note that the festival itself is not affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania, and the University has released a statement actively distancing itself from the conference, it is of great concern that some academic departments have signed on as cosponsors.
We commend the Jewish students at UPenn, UPenn Hillel, and Chabad House at Penn for their tireless efforts and leadership in advocating for the protection and fair treatment of the Jewish campus community in the face of this event. They are working with the administration to ensure Jewish student safety, including through enhanced security for Jewish spaces during the conference, and discussing proactive steps to prevent the conference from increasing antisemitic sentiment on campus. The courage and persistence of students on the ground is inspiring, and we are committed to supporting them in their mission to foster a safe and inclusive campus environment.
“While the administration took a necessary first step through its statement and by meeting with concerned Jewish students, the antisemitism involved in this conference is reflective of a larger, global issue, and must be treated as such.” said Roz Rothstein, CEO of StandWithUs. “Antisemitism is on the rise worldwide, and college campuses must play a major role in the fight to combat it. The University of Pennsylvania has an opportunity to become a leader against antisemitism on college campuses. However, that requires much more than minimal pushback to campus speakers who consistently and fervently perpetuate antisemitic tropes and anti-Israel disinformation.”
UPenn must work diligently to proactively prevent a rise in antisemitism on their campus resulting from this conference and any hate promoted by its speakers. This includes increasing and maintaining communication between the administration and Jewish students, collaborating on far-reaching educational initiatives to raise awareness and educate about antisemitism, and unequivocally condemning any antisemitism expressed during or caused by the conference. Moreover, the administration should be prepared to protect students' rights to respectfully disagree with the content presented, especially if attendance is required by professors or academic departments. Finally, we highly recommend that UPenn adopts the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism as an educational tool. This is the most widely accepted definition of antisemitism, and the one the United States Department of Education considers when investigating complaints about bigotry against Jewish students on campus. The University of Pennsylvania administration has a responsibility to protect all students from discrimination, and the time to act on that responsibility with respect to Jewish students is now. About StandWithUs StandWithUs (SWU) is an international, nonprofit, and non-partisan Israel education organization that works to inspire and educate people of all ages about Israel, as well as challenge misinformation and fight against antisemitism. Through university fellowships, high school internships, middle school curricula, conferences, materials, social media, educational films, and missions to Israel, StandWithUs supports people around the world who want to educate their schools and communities about Israel. Founded in 2001 and headquartered in Los Angeles, the organization has chapters and programs throughout the U.S., Israel, the UK, Canada, South Africa, Brazil, and the Netherlands. For the last eleven years, StandWithUs has consistently received the highest possible ratings from Charity Navigator and GuideStar, two charity watchdog groups that assess hundreds of thousands of charities in the United States. www.standwithus.com and www.facebook.com/standwithus and www.twitter.com/standwithus and www.instagram.com/standwithus.com