This weekend, the Palestine Writes Literature Festival, whose self-described mission is “celebrating and promoting cultural productions of Palestinian writers and artists,” is taking place at the University of Pennsylvania, co-sponsored by several of the college’s institutions. Following complaints by major Jewish organizations, the university issued a statement acknowledging that “several speakers [at the event] have a documented and troubling history of engaging in anti-Semitism by speaking and acting in ways that denigrate Jewish people,” while making clear that to prevent the event from taking place would be an affront to academic freedom. The organizers, meanwhile, issued a statement defending themselves against accusations of anti-Semitism from “highly funded, connected, and organized Zionist organizations” that “operate in the shadows.”
Jonathan Tobin comments:
In principle, there should be nothing controversial about a conference devoted to a particular group’s literature. But this event seems designed more to provoke outrage than it is to further scholarly sessions or papers about a literary niche.
[T]he fact that “Palestine Writes” will also be featuring international anti-Semites like the Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters (last seen in Berlin cavorting in a Nazi-like uniform at one of his concerts/propaganda sessions) and the [CNN] commentator Marc Lamont Hill (best known for his declaration of support for a Palestine “from the river to the sea” and Israel’s eradication) speaks volumes about its actual purpose. They are not Palestinian writers, academics, or literary experts tasked to explain why exponents of hatred for Israel are “marginalized.”
If one conceives of academic freedom as protecting virtually any form of speech or study undertaken by a scholar, teacher, or student, then [the question of whether to allow the event would be settled]. But . . . could anyone possibly imagine a conference being sponsored at any institution of higher learning in which the subject matter was focused on hate of a specific group like African Americans, Asians, or Hispanics? Or if such an event would feature not just academics who support such prejudice but non-academic celebrities who embrace that agenda? Of course not.