Yesterday I wrote to University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann, asking her to condemn a vile and inflammatory attack by Professor Ruben Gur on the University’s own students.
The unchecked inflammatory rhetoric by opponents of the conference, especially Professor Gur, is making students and conference participants feel unsafe.
Most disturbingly, Gur singled out Jewish students and speakers, calling them “capos” at Nazi extermination camps. “Capo” or “kapo” is the term for a concentration or death camp inmate who collaborated with the Nazis.
It would seem that Gutmann has no problem with such anti-Semitic attacks as long as the Jews being singled out in this despicable manner are deemed to be supporters of equal rights for Palestinians.
And Gutmann has failed to speak out even as pro-Israel groups are bringing a violence and torture advocate to campus to counter the BDS conference.
Failing to stand up to violent rhetoric
While I’ve had no response to my letter – 24 hours after sending it and confirming it was received by telephone – Gutmann wrote a public letter in the campus newspaper The Daily Pennsylvanian reiterating her opposition to BDS and adding this weak sauce:
Since its founding more than 270 years ago, Penn has stood for the free exchange of ideas. That concept is central to our mission, and is one that cannot be compromised if we are to uphold our standing as a great university.
Amid the passion that many feel around this weekend’s events, we urge you to focus on the one thing we cannot afford to lose: the great tradition and enduring gift of Penn’s founders – the chance to speak our minds freely.
These banalaties are an inadequate response to one of Penn’s faculty members denouncing Jewish students as “capos” and Nazis just because he disagrees with them.
Members of PennBDS, the campus group organizing the conference, responded to Gur’s hate speech in a letter of their own:
We read with some shock the opinion piece you published yesterday by Penn Professor Ruben Gur. With no evidence whatsoever, and in direct contradiction to everything we’ve ever said or written, Gur designates our student group “genocidal” and equates our upcoming conference with Nazi anti-Semitism. He labels our Jewish participants and organizers “Capos” and (in the same breath that he scolds us for describing Alan Dershowitz as an “Israel apologist”) compares Palestinian human-rights activist Omar Barghouti with Adolf Hitler.
Gutmann too should condemn Gur’s inciteful hate speech in clear terms. Instead, on that point, she has so far chosen silence.
Perhaps people should email or call President Gutmann (215-898-7221) to make sure she gets the message that she needs to stand up for her students against vile and discriminatory rhetoric from professors, and ensure the campus is safe for them to exercise their rights.
Students feel unsafe
As the rhetoric mounts and Gutmann fails to show any sort of leadership, students involved in organizing the conference say they feel unsafe:
Others have also expressed concerns:
And yet President Gutmann and the University of Pennsylvania administration seem to take a surprisingly lax view.
A question that should perhaps be investigated is whether Gutmann’s failure to protect students – especially Jewish students – against the kind of intimidation and hate speech by Professor Gur amounts to a violation of their civil rights under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Singling out Jews
Professor Gur is not the only one attacking the BDS conference and singling out Jews for special opprobrium. In The Jewish Exponent, Bryan Schwartzman writes:
More than a third of the listed speakers are Jewish, including Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace.
This ominous sentence – where Schwartzman ‘counts the Jews’ – echoes Gur’s singling out of Jews as “capos.”
Bringing a violence advocate to campus
Not only is the University of Pennsylvania failing to stand up for its students rights, but increasing the heated atmosphere by bringing a notorious advocate of violence and torture onto campus to speak against the BDS conference. His name is Alan Dershowitz.
To counter the Penn BDS event, local pro-Israel groups including Hillel and the Philadelphia Jewish Federation have summoned the famed trial lawyer and Harvard University professor of law Alan Dershowitz to campus to keynote a Feb. 2 event: “Why Israel Matters to You, Me, and Penn: A conversation with Alan Dershowitz.” Penn’s Political Science department - which has pointedly refused to co-sponsor the BDS conference – will co-host Dershowitz’s lecture, where the professor has vowed to explain why he considers BDS to be one of the most “immoral, illegal and despicable concepts around academia today.”
The support Dershowitz received from the university and from pro-Israel groups that claim to abhor violence is ironic in light of Dershowitz’s record. Indeed, Dershowitz is an open advocate of torture who has urged Israel to destroy entire Palestinian villages, attack civilians and bulldoze their homes.
It’s really past time for the University of Pennyslvania to show some responsibility, stop pandering to the political agendas of outside groups, and stand up for the safety and rights of its own students.