September 12, 2023
By Dion J. Pierre
Illustrative Anti-Israel event. Photo: Shutterstock
The University of Pennsylvania is preparing to host an event that will feature a gamut of anti-Zionist activists who have promoted antisemitic tropes and called for violence against Israel.
Set to take place on Sept. 22-24, the “Palestine Writes Literature Festival” is sponsored by the university’s Wolf Humanities Center — which is described on its social media as “Penn’s gateway to the humanities, where the public and academy celebrate their common stake in thinking the arts” — and Department of Cinema and Media Studies.
On Tuesday, Middle East experts and nonprofit leaders told The Algemeiner that the event is an “Israel hate fest” and noted that City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center professor Marc Lamont Hill, a former associate of Louis Farrakhan who has accused Israeli police of training American officers to kill Black people, will be speaking there.
“Hill in particular is a longtime advocate of violence against Israel and staunch Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions [BDS] supporter who was fired from CNN after a 2018 speech in which he called for the destruction of the Jewish state,” said Asaf Romirowsky, executive director of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East. “Once again we are seeing how propaganda is masqueraded as ‘scholarship.’ UPenn should take a very careful look at where it draws the lines between free speech and hate speech, especially from individuals who have a track record of racism and antisemitism.”
Other speakers listed on the event’s itinerary have also been described as antisemitic — including Islamic University of Gaza professor Refaat Alareer, who said in 2018, “Are most Jews evil? Of course they are.” Another listed speaker, Palestinian researcher Salman Abu Sitta, previously said during an interview that “Jews were hated in Europe because they played a role in the destruction of the economy in some of the countries, so they would hate them.”
Roger Waters, the former Pink Floyd frontman, is also a scheduled speaker. In recent years he has made comments about “Jewish power” and compared Israel to Nazi Germany. In May, during a concert held in Berlin, he performed in what looked like a Nazi SS officer uniform. A projection that played during the concert also compared Holocaust victim Anne Frank to Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh — who was accidentally shot and killed last year while covering an Israeli military raid in the West Bank — and the show was deemed as “deeply offensive to Jewish people.”
Additionally, the event’s executive director, Susan Abulhawa, has accused Israel of committing “a dozen kristallnachts [sic],” referring to the infamous pogrom carried out against Jews in Nazi Germany in November 1938. Abulhawa’s viewpoints are so controversial that a sponsor of an Australian festival she was scheduled to participate in pulled its support.
“The Palestine Writes Festival, scheduled to take place at UPenn, purports to be a celebration of Palestinian art and literature but features speakers known for their antisemitic and anti-Israel rhetoric,” Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO of the Israel education nonprofit StandWithUs, told The Algemeiner. “To make matters worse, the event is scheduled to begin just hours before Shabbat and end just hours before Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism.”
Rothstein added, “Celebrating one group should never involve promoting hate against another group. The UPenn administration has a responsibility to communicate that and support its Jewish students by distancing itself from the conference and condemning the speaker’s bigoted rhetoric.”
The University of Pennsylvania responded to the criticism on Tuesday, issuing a statement to The Algemeiner signed by school president M. Elizabeth Magill, provost John L. Jackson, and dean of the School of Arts and Sciences Steven J. Fluharty.
“We unequivocally — and emphatically — condemn antisemitism as antithetical to our institutional values,” the statement said. “As a university, we also fiercely support the free exchange of ideas as central to our educational mission. This includes the expression of views that are controversial and even those that are incompatible with our institutional values.”
The high-level administrators added, “This public event is not organized by the university.”
Following the University of Pennsylvania’s statement, StopAntisemitism, a nonprofit organization that tracks antisemitic incidents and hate crimes around the world, accused the officials of countenancing “Jew hatred” and called their response “pathetic.”
“Penn comes out with a statement condemning antisemitism but allowing it to fester on their campus under the guise of ‘academic freedom,'” the group tweeted.
News of the festival comes amid a nationwide surge in antisemitic incidents on college campuses across the US — a problem that has been tracked by several nonprofits. Groups such as the Anti-Defamation League and the AMCHA Initiative have monitored a significant increase in displays of both traditional antisemitism — discrimination against Jews based on religion or race — and anti-Zionism targeting Jewish students over their support for Israel.
The Algemeiner has previously reported on the surge in antisemitism across American college campuses. Just last week, a student and anti-Israel activist at Harvard University interrupted a convocation ceremony held by the school, shouting at Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana, “Here’s the real truth — Harvard supports, upholds, and invests in Israeli apartheid, and the oppression of Palestinians!”
Findings of a new survey — conducted by market research firm Ipsos and released on Friday by the World Jewish Congress and Jewish on Campus, a nonprofit organization — reported that 57 percent of Jewish students have witnessed or experienced an act of antisemitism either on campus or in the general public and that a striking 84 percent fear that antisemitism in the US poses a threat to the country. Read the full article here.