Why won't the university answer basic questions about the origins of its 2012 "Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions" conference?
What do the administrators at the University of Pennsylvania know about the 2012 National Conference of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement about to take place at Penn and when did they know it?
“BDS,” as this virulent anti-Israeli hatefest is commonly called, is coming to the Penn campus on February 3-5, but university officials have hid from the implications of hosting such an event. They say that the university is on record as not supporting this movement, yet they let the event go forward, providing space and possibly funding, despite the fact that the sponsors may not meet school requirements as a recognized group and that their anti-Semitic message is deeply hostile to academic freedom and basic human decency. The university appears to be bending rules that would be rigidly enforced for sponsors of another cause.
U Penn’s willingness to enable the BDS conference is particularly inexplicable given the fact that this growing movement to boycott Israel and Israeli-produced goods, force divestment from any companies that do business with Israel, and establish sanctions against Israel due to its supposed violations of human rights, was created by nations and groups seeking to delegitimize and destabilize Israel such as the terrorist-sponsoring nation of Iran and the terrorist groups Hezbollah, and Hamas.
As Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz has noted, the BDS movement abets terrorism: "People who advocate boycotts and divestiture will literally have blood on their hands," he said. "They encourage terrorism and discourage the laying down of arms." Even Noam Chomsky stated recently that BDS was “hypocritical” in its pretense to be concerned about Israeli human rights violations and that the movement could be called anti-Semitic “with justice.”
Among the scheduled speakers at the upcoming conference is Anna Baltzer, a “Jewish American Palestinian human rights activist,” who summarizes the line of attack on Israel when she bluntly states that its polices of “ethnic cleansing and apartheid must be stopped.” These terms are not arguments; they are knowing lies designed to weaken the Jewish State and soften it up for the kill. The insidious segregation of “apartheid” does not exist in Israel. Arabs are granted full civil rights under Israeli law, which forbids discrimination on the basis of race, creed, or sex. Israeli Arab citizens vote in national elections, have representatives in the Israeli Parliament, serve as tenured professors teaching in Israeli colleges and universities, and sit on the benches of Israeli courts (including the Israeli Supreme Court). They have more rights, and enjoy more freedom, education, and economic opportunity than the Arabs of any Arab state.
The BDS conference at Penn will feature, in addition to BALTZER, a cavalcade of anti-Israel speakers, including founder of the Electronic Intifada Ali Abunimah, whose views are summed up when he says, "Israel is a society where virulent anti-Arab racism and Nakba denial are the norm although none of the European and American leaders who constantly lecture about Holocaust denial will dare to admonish Netanyahu for his bald lies and omissions about Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians."
The BDS National Conference at U Penn is by no means a stand-alone event. In fact the BDS movement shares radical political DNA (and personnel) with the international “Israel Apartheid Weeks” and “Palestine Awareness Weeks” scheduled to take place on campuses around the country this spring. The goal of these events, designed by Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated organizations the Muslim Students Association (MSA) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), is to garner support for the Palestinian Authority and Hamas who seek to “push the Jews into the sea” and annihilate the Jewish state. These “weeks” have regularly sought to intimidate Jewish students, occasionally through acts of physical violence, and have become frequent occurrences at campuses like the University of California, Irvine.
The growing BDS movement pursues these same ends by other means—delegitimating Israel by cutting its financial and cultural ties to America. Along with others in his group, Omar Barghouti, the founder of the BDS movement, is a regular speaker on college campuses during Israel Apartheid Week. Barghouti expresses the genocidal logic at the heart of the anti-Israel movement when he says of its attempt to defend itself: “Israel is never retaliating, because it’s the occupying power, and occupation by definition is aggression and violence.”
Despite the intention of the BDS conference to preach three days of systematic ethnic hatred against Jews that the university would not countenance if it were directed, say, at Muslims, U Penn officials have turned a blind eye (and deaf ear) to the growing public outcry about the conference, claiming that it is solely a student matter and that, to stretch credulity, the university literally has no information regarding the conference, its funding, its sponsors, or its arrangements to use university facilities.
As a concerned Jewish-American citizen (and someone whose mother, coincidentally, is an alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania, in part because other schools like Harvard and Yale had strict quotas on the number of Jews who could attend in the early '60s) I made several calls to university officials to see if I could uncover the truth about Penn’s sponsorship or funding of or cooperation with the BDS conference.
I first spoke with Executive Director Karu Kozuma at the Office of Student Affairs and hit a brick wall. Kozuma claimed that all funding decisions are handled by students themselves and he did not have any information on whether PennBDS receives student funds either in general or for the upcoming conference. Finding it a bit hard to believe that a university would exercise no oversight in such matters, I asked if there was a list showing all the Student Activities Council allotments for student organizations in the past year. Kozuma claimed there was no public record of this. He claimed to have forwarded my inquiries to the student leaders of PennBDS but I received no response.
A week after my initial call Kozuma responded by email to clarify that PennBDS had only recently become a recognized student organization and as such was not eligible to receive student activities funds for three months. He went on to explain, “As a student organization, Penn BDS receive 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. Depending on the campus space and type of activity, university facility hosts may charge student organizations for audio/visual, labor, security, and other costs. Use of the space itself is generally gratis. With the planned upcoming event, Penn BDS has reserved available campus spaces and is working with facility hosts to determine its A/V, labor, and other needs, which would incur costs as for other student groups.”
Many observers and critics of the PennBDS conference and movement note that it appears to have sprung up overnight out of thin air. Yet Penn does have rules and regulations governing how long a student organization must be in existence before it may be officially recognized by the University and thereby be eligible to use university facilities free-of-charge.
The Student Activities Council (SAC) website notes that in order to apply for recognition, the first step toward achieving funding, a student organization at Penn must fulfill several criteria. As the website specifies, “All groups seeking SAC recognition must have been in existence for at least one year. Additionally, the group must have a board with a mix of upper classmen and a roster of past events the group has already put on. The group must also demonstrate an appeal to a reasonable portion of the Penn Community” (emphasis added).
I once again emailed Kozuma to inquire whether PennBDS had met these criteria-- in particular, whether the group had existed for a full year prior to its recognition by the Student Activities Council. My inquiries met with no response, raising questions about whether the Student Activities Council and the administrators who oversee it may have bent the rules for PennBDS. Attempts to contact PennBDS directly to ask these questions were also ignored.
I also tried to extract information from the university's main public relations line and was again told that the conference was strictly a student affair being handled by PennBDS, that the university was not sponsoring it, and "it didn't go through our office." I reminded him that there had been a national public outcry over Penn’s hosting of the conference—I thought that at least the university would have drafted a standard statement for reporters--and tried asking for more information, but was again shut down. I tried asking whether Penn BDS was being required to pay for the use of university rooms and facilities but was told again, “I don’t know anything about it.”
This unconcern and lack of transparency on the part of Penn, a university that once had a reputation for being more welcoming to Jews than its Ivy League counterparts, was disturbing. The BDS movement is steeped in hatred and anti-Semitism, yet Penn has taken the stance that it has no authority to forbid such hatred access to its property or even to oversee basic details regarding the organization’s use of university facilities and resources. Would Penn take the same line if the conference was being sponsored not by BDS but by the Aryan Brotherhood or the KKK, organizations similarly devoted to hatred?
The University of Pennsylvania’s straddle on this issue comes from the fact that it knows full well that there is a war taking place at universities across the country over the Mideast conflict. And that the army now occupying the most ground on campus is pro-Palestinian and pro-jihad and anti-Israel and anti-Semitic. The university’s task, therefore, is to appear above the fray while secretly appeasing the aggressors and providing loudspeakers for their message of hate.
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