Pennsylvania University’s Event Sparks Concerns on Antisemitism

In a society that cherishes the free exchange of ideas and intellectual discourse, it’s crucial to differentiate between constructive discussions and those that might perpetuate harm or prejudice. It’s with this perspective that we approach the recent event sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania, the “Palestine Writes Literature Festival”, set to unfold between September 22-24.

Promoted by the university’s Wolf Humanities Center, a hub designed for celebrating arts within the academic realm, the festival’s intent is questionable due to the participation of several figures with a controversial past concerning Israel and the broader Jewish community.

For instance, speaker Marc Lamont Hill, who was dismissed from CNN in 2018, has made headlines for his sharp critiques of Israel. Other invitees, such as Refaat Alareer from the Islamic University of Gaza, and researcher Salman Abu Sitta, have made previous statements that veer into dangerous territory of stereotyping and prejudice. Even popular figures, like Roger Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd, are known for their controversial remarks linking Israel to Nazi Germany and other highly charged comparisons.

The choice of timing for the event also raises eyebrows, as it begins just before Shabbat and concludes right before Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism.

The University of Pennsylvania has responded to the mounting concerns, emphasizing its unyielding stance against antisemitism. Yet, they have highlighted their dedication to the free exchange of ideas, even if they contradict institutional values. Their statement explicitly notes that the university itself hasn’t organized the event.

The broader issue transcends this one event. Across the US, there’s an alarming rise in antisemitic incidents on college campuses. These instances aren’t limited to traditional forms of discrimination but also extend to prejudice against Jewish students for their support of Israel.

For those of us who stand united with Israel, these incidents are deeply concerning. Israel, a beacon of democracy, innovation, and cultural richness in the Middle East, deserves fair representation in academic and public discourse. While criticisms of policies or decisions are valid in any democratic discussion, it is vital to ensure that such discussions do not devolve into prejudice or hate.

Israel, with its tapestry of history, resilience, and pursuit of peace, symbolizes a story of perseverance in the face of adversity. The Israeli spirit cherishes values of unity, progress, coexistence, and mutual respect. As we approach such events and discussions, let’s remember the importance of promoting understanding, peace, and constructive dialogue that celebrates these values and the intrinsic worth of every community.