|Roberta P. Seid||December 24th 2011|
Last week, the University of Pennsylvania officially announced that the anti-Israel 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.)
Student leaders at Penn are resolutely standing up against BDS on their campus. StandWithUs, a principal opponent of the BDS, has partnered with Hillel, Scholars for Peace in the Mideast, CAMERA and other groups to support the pro-Israel community at Penn. Penn’s action makes it one of the few universities to take a firm stand against what are increasingly being called bigoted events on campus. The university's position upholds the right to free speech while also making it clear that the university disapproves of the content of the speech.
“The Penn administration took the opportunity to lead by example," said Roz Rothstein, CEO of StandWithUs, "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."
The line-up of scheduled speakers at the forthcoming conference indicated that the BDS event would be filled with age-old bigotry and prejudice to incite hatred against Israel and foment bitter divisions on campus. Research by StandWithUs and other concerned organizations revealed that most of the scheduled speakers are extreme in their views in terms of opposing the existence of the Jewish state. Some are even more extreme and could be considered bigoted.
For example, one invited speaker, Columbia University professor Hamid Dashabi, reportedly 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 bone-deep and structural to the skeletal vertebrae of its culture.” (Al-Ahram, September, 2004)
Another invited speaker reportedly stated, that Israelis are “incapable of empathy and compassion for other people.” Yet another speaker is reputed to have declared at a 2005 conference 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.”
“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,” emphasized Rothstein.
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.
Penn's Statement on Planned BDS Conference makes the university's position crystal clear. It states, "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."
Roberta P. Seid is a member of StandWithUs.