Penn President Amy Gutmann,
It’s with a heavy heart that I write to express my disappointment and surprise in your giving PennBDS a forum at Penn. The irony of using the University’s commitment to open and free dialogue to advance such a decidedly illiberal and pernicious cause is poignant indeed.
I am well aware of your statement that this is not an event sanctioned by the University, but that statement is, frankly, unconvincing. The BDS movement — seeking to pressure organizations to boycott, divest and sanction Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East — specifically trades on the prestige of its venues. It has no choice since it is founded on such arrant distortions, glaring omissions and malicious half-truths. Just the name “PennBDS” implies far more than can be denied by a dozen tepid statements from the Penn administration. By railing against Israel with such religious ardor and blatantly ignoring the human rights atrocities committed by her neighbors with metronomic regularity, they clearly stand to be counted with the enemies of civilization. Such a movement and its adherents must have no place at Penn.
If ever there was a time for leaders of our academic institutions to unite and stare down bigotry, racism and intolerance, surely this is it. As a History major at Penn, one of the many things I learned was the tragic cascade of repercussions from silence and neutrality in the face of such malevolence. As Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel lamented, “we learn from History that we do not learn from History.” Indeed, if Martin Niemoller’s famous words don’t resonate here and now, when will they?
I urge you to be resolute in your defense of Penn’s reputation as a place where the BDS movement’s lies and agenda will find no quarter. There are enough other universities that will vacillate and draw false equivalences behind fig leaves of free speech. Please call this parade of anti-Semitism exactly what it is and stand fast in your refusal to brook all such insults to Penn’s reputation. Fidelity to both 272 years of Penn tradition and its legions of alumni demand nothing less.
Thank you in advance for your consideration.
Yali Elkin is a 1997 College graduate.