ZOA Quoted in Phila. Jewish Exponent on U Of P Jew-Hating, Israel-Bashing Conference
News Press Release ZOA in the news
September 15, 2023

By Jarrad Saffren

(SEPTEMBER 12, 2023 / PHILADELPHIA JEWISH EXPONENT) The Palestine Writes Festival is “the only North American literature festival dedicated to celebrating and promoting cultural productions of Palestinian writers and artists,” according to palestinewrites.org. And a quick perusal of the speaker list will show that most of these writers and artists are dedicated to doing just that.

There is little mention of modern-day Israel on most of these pages. But then you get to someone like Roger Waters, the former lead singer of Pink Floyd and a loud critic of Israel, and you see that this event has another side to it.

“Waters is an active supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement since 2011, and has routinely called for a total cultural boycott in Israel,” the site reads.

This is by design, according to Susan Abulhawa, the festival’s executive director.

“We will go home someday. No matter how long it takes or what it takes, there is nothing that will put out this fire and love for our stolen homes and heritage,” Abulhawa said.

The festival will take place on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus from Sept. 22-24. Four departments within the school’s Arts & Sciences program are among the sponsors. Certain events will happen in a building next to Houston Hall, where Jewish students will be observing Yom Kippur on Sept. 24, according to Penn Hillel.

The Zionist Organization of America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting Israel, is trying to shut the festival down.

“When you have a conference where speakers include (Temple University professor) Marc Lamont Hill, who opposes Israel’s very existence, and Roger Waters, who falsely condemns Israel as a genocidal apartheid state, it makes it clear that this is a vicious, antisemitic, Israel-bashing event,” said Morton Klein, the national president of ZOA and a Merion Station resident. “And Penn should be ashamed for having it.”

Klein believes that the festival could make “people feel more negatively about Jews on campus,” he said. He is certain that it will make Jewish students uncomfortable wearing a yarmulke or Jewish star necklace.

“More Jews will hide their Jewishness because of this event,” Klein concluded.

That’s why his organization has written to Penn’s president, M. Elizabeth Magill, and the chairperson of Penn’s board of trustees, Scott L. Bok. ZOA is also having its lawyers investigate a possible lawsuit that would argue that Penn violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in any activity or program that receives federal funds or financial assistance.

“They are violating U.S. law,” he said.

The university responded in a statement signed by Magill, Provost John L. Jackson and Arts & Sciences Dean Steven J. Fluharty.

“We unequivocally — and emphatically — condemn antisemitism as antithetical to our institutional values,” they said. “As a university, we also fiercely support the free exchange of ideas as central to our educational mission. This includes the expression of views that are controversial and even those that are incompatible with our institutional values.”

Penn’s Hillel’s Maya Harpaz, the chapter’s vice president for Israel engagement, oversees Israel-related clubs on campus; there are between 150 and 200 members. She said she did not want to see the event shut down.

“It’s a literature festival,” Harpaz said.

But she said that she was concerned about speakers with “specifically antisemitic backgrounds like Roger Waters.”

“It can definitely incite people from outside the Penn community who have hateful views and rhetoric and bring them to campus,” Harpaz added.

The junior also expressed concern about Jewish students walking to Yom Kippur services on Sept. 24.

Harpaz and other pro-Israel students wanted to see the university condemn the past statements of Waters and Lamont Hill that are antisemitic. She also hoped that Penn takes a stand against a speaker at the event who might say something “blatantly antisemitic.”

Abulhawa argued that there is no such middle ground.

“This is a literary festival. It’s a cultural event. And we are an indigenous, displaced and colonized people,” she said. “Part of our story is resistance to colonization.”

Abulhawa was born in 1970. Three years earlier, her parents had to leave Israel as refugees from the Six-Day War. Her extended family members ended up moving to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. While Abulhawa made it to the United States with her father, she lived in foster care from the ages of 13 to 17.

Her first novel, “Mornings in Jenin,” published in 2010, draws from her family’s story. It was translated into 32 languages.

“Part of what defines our society is family and clan cohesion. And that was destroyed. And this is the story of every Palestinian,” she said. “Zionism has to be recognized as a colonial endeavor that originated in Europe. Antisemitism and the Holocaust were used to fuel people’s support for colonization of Palestine.”

This article was originally published by the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent and can be viewed here.

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