Bigotry under the umbrella of a great university

Bigotry under the umbrella of a great university

The University of Pennsylvania is a great school and I loved it there. I studied with superb professors, learned from excellent classmates, and grew from the many outstanding opportunities presented to me at Penn.

But now, instead of standing up to hatred and bigotry, the university risks sacrificing its intellectual honesty and academic integrity.

On Feb. 3-5, a university-recognized group called PennBDS will sponsor the 2012 National Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Conference on the Penn campus. BDS is a movement that specifically targets Israel and aims to undermine the legitimacy of the Jewish state through false accusations and dishonest scholarship masquerading as human rights advocacy.

PennBDS and the entire BDS movement claim to be interested in promoting “the growing global campaign to boycott, divest from, and sanction the State of Israel until it complies with its obligations under international and human rights law.” That’s what it says on the PennBDS website.

However, if they are concerned with violations of international and human rights law, it is notable that they focus none of their attention on known human rights violators and oppressive governments such as those that exist in North Korea, China, Sudan, Iran, or any others.

If PennBDS is specifically focused on the oppression of Arabs, then it is curious that they are not decrying the governments of Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, or others.

And if PennBDS is particularly disturbed only by the oppression of Palestinian Arabs, then one wonders why they are not protesting the governments of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria, or others in which the Palestinians have suffered extreme discrimination, violence, and forced expulsions.

In Gaza, under the authority of Hamas, political freedom, religious freedom, and freedom of association are severely curtailed, women’s rights are limited, human rights activists are targeted, and homosexuality is a criminal offense.

Upon any serious consideration, it becomes clear that BDS actually has no problem with oppression, no problem with oppression of Arabs, and no problem with the oppression of Palestinian Arabs. BDS actually has a problem only with Israel and it can only be deduced that their problem is truly with Jews.

Many of the scheduled speakers frequently disseminate misinformation and false narratives about Israel and Jews. Keynote speaker Ali Abunimah has intentionally understated Hamas violence and disseminated false quotations in order to make Israeli leaders appear cruel. Anna Baltzer has made numerous false claims about Israel including publishing on her blog for months a false story accusing Israeli soldiers of shooting Palestinian children in front of their mother. Max Blumenthal falsely reported on his blog that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said the Sept. 11 attacks were “very good.” At a lecture at UC Bakersfield, Susan Abulhawa declared that Israel does not allow Christians to live there. Not only is this utterly false, but in the face of the persecution Christians are suffering in the Arab and Moslem world today, this claim is practically obscene. These are just a few examples of the sham scholarship of this “conference.”

Hateful anti-Semitic remarks made by many of the speakers are also numerous. At the same UC Bakersfield lecture, one attendee recounts that Abulhawa claimed “Israeli soldiers sadistically torment and kill innocent Palestinians, including children and babies.” Adding to the demonic image, she claimed that Israeli soldiers also target household pets, and “tie up the legs of horses to torture them.” This is little more than an update of the classic anti-Semitic blood libel hurled at Jews for millennia.

PennBDS is a university-recognized student group. In an e-mail to, Office of Student Affairs Executive Director Karu Kozuma wrote, “As a student organization, Penn BDS receive [sic] a number of privileges to use at their discretion as resources are available. These include staff consultation and advising, administrative support, and free use of available common campus spaces.”

This means that the money I donate as an alumna goes to lighting, heating, security, and other amenities for this hate group. Furthermore, Kozuma explained that since PennBDS had only recently become a recognized student organization, it was not eligible to receive student activities funds for three months. Presumably after three months, PennBDS will receive funding from the university.

Amy Gutmann, Penn’s president, has issued a statement announcing the university is not sponsoring the conference and does not support sanctions or boycotts against Israel. But this does not go far enough. The university administration should condemn the conference and the entire BDS movement.

This is an opportunity for the University of Pennsylvania to stand for academic integrity and intellectual honesty, and against hatred and bigotry. This is an opportunity for Penn to be the first prestigious organization with the moral courage to declare forcefully that the BDS movement is nothing but a racist effort to smear Israel and Jews, to defy the tyranny of political correctness, and to state clearly that the emperor has no clothes. Imagine the power of that kind of honesty and the goodwill that would flow from it.

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