Penn Statement on Planned BDS Conference
A campus student group, Penn BDS, is planning a national conference in February that will encourage boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
This is not an event sponsored by the University. The event is being sponsored by a registered student group, as is permitted of any student group on campus.
The University of Pennsylvania has clearly stated on numerous occasions that it does not support sanctions or boycotts against Israel. Indeed, Penn has important and successful scholarly collaborations with Israeli institutions that touch on many areas of our academic enterprise.
Penn has always supported free expression and the free exchange of ideas. These are essential elements of a great university. These principles apply to this event, as they would any other student event, whether or not we agree with or condone the message BDS seeks to communicate.
University of Pennsylvania
1 College Hall, Room 100
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6380
President Amy Gutmann
StandWithUs Press Release
December 23, 2011
We are pleased to report that just a few hours ago, the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) officially announced that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) national conference, scheduled to be held on their campus in February, 2012, does not have the university’s imprimatur. Penn also stated unequivocally that it “does not support boycotts or sanctions against Israel.” (See the university’s official statement below.)
We congratulate the student leaders at PENN who are resolutely standing up against BDS on their campus. StandWithUs is a proud partner with Hillel, SPME and the ICC member team in supporting the pro-Israel community at Penn.
We applaud Penn for being one of the few universities to take a firm stand about bigoted events on campus. Penn is upholding the right to free speech while making it clear that the university disapproves of the content of that speech. Penn took the opportunity to lead by example, just as Columbia University’s President Lee Bollinger did when he wrote an open letter in 2007, excoriating calls for an academic boycott of Israel . Over 300 university presidents signed the letter. We urge other schools to follow Penn’s example when they face similar predicaments about how to uphold free speech while condemning hate speech.
We were extremely concerned because the line-up of scheduled speakers indicated that this event would be filled with age-old bigotry and prejudice to incite hatred against Israel and foment bitter divisions on campus. Our research has revealed that most of the scheduled speakers are extremists who oppose the existence of the Jewish state and irresponsibly spread propaganda, distort facts, whitewash or justify terrorism and the murder of Jews, and frequently lie about basic facts to demonize Israel and its supporters.
Some of the speakers also express blatantly racist views. For example, one invited speaker, Columbia University professor Hamid Dashabi, wrote the following about Israeli Jews:
“A half century of systematic maiming and murdering of another people has left its deep marks on the faces of these people, the way they talk, the way they walk, the way they handle objects, the way they greet each other, the way they look at the world.’ They have a ‘vulgarity of character that is bond-deep and structural to the skeletal vertebrae of its culture.” (Al-Ahram, September, 2004)
Another invited speaker, Helena Cobban, has claimed that Israelis are “incapable of empathy and compassion for other people.” (January 2009, Georgetown University) Keynote speaker Ali Abunimah has declared that “Ending the occupation does not solve the problem. The Jews do not view all human beings as equal. The 1948 borders were calculated to harm Christians, Arabs, Palestinians and Muslims.” (Chicago Sabeel Conference, October 7, 2005) Speaker Susan Abulhawa resurrects blood libels, claiming that: “Palestinians are killed as if insects not because of Hamas or Yasser Arafat before them…..Palestinians burn and bleed because they are the non-Jewish natives of that land. There is no other reason.” (Jan. 6, 2009 at http://www.ifamericansknew.org/cur_sit/abulhawa.html)
We trust that if a white supremacist, Islamophobic or homophobic group held a conference on campus, university administrations would condemn the prejudice and bigotry of the messages. The same principle should apply when Israel and Jews are targeted.
BDS activities on campuses across America have caused bitter divisiveness. The hatemongering degrades discourse and creates a hostile, even threatening, environment for students and faculty who feel a connection to the state of Israel. It does not further understanding, promote reasonable, informed debate, or help the campus community consider what might bring peace to the troubled region.
Again, we applaud Penn’s public position.