Next week, Penn will host Palestine Writes, a festival with the noble purpose of “celebrating and promoting cultural productions of Palestinian writers and artists.” I, for one, was excited for the festival; I’ve read Darwish, and Said, and others, and looked forward to the possibility of experiencing Palestinian literature on Penn’s Campus. I rejoiced at hearing Susan Abulhawa, the executive director of the festival, saying “no one at our festival is an antisemite” in an article from The Daily Pennsylvanian on Thursday.
Unfortunately, it appears that Ms. Abulhawa and I have differing views on what constitutes antisemitism. The festival may be about Palestinian literature, but the event organizers are bringing speakers to Penn who have repeatedly attacked and demonized Jews. I could write about the speakers’ support of terrorism, their calls for intifada, or their calls for the destruction of Israel, but whether those stances constitute antisemitism is debatable. What is not debatable is the explicit antisemitism, unrelated to Zionism, expressed by some of the festival’s speakers.
A recent op-ed in the DP stated that Palestine Writes is a chance to “honor our ancestors, celebrate the culture they created over millennia and bequeathed to us, and learn from our thinkers, writers, and artists who graciously agreed to speak and share their cultural productions.”
Why, then, is Roger Waters a speaker at the event? Last I checked, he’s not Palestinian. This is the Roger Waters who recently appeared in a Nazi-style uniform in front of a crowd in Germany and compared the death of Anne Frank, a Jewish teen murdered in the Holocaust, to the death of Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian journalist killed accidentally (according to the United States Department of State) during an Israeli military operation in the West Bank. This is the Roger Waters who has been condemned by the State Department for his use of antisemitic tropes, and who has talked in interviews about the “Jewish Lobby.” Not the Israel lobby, specifically the Jewish lobby. I struggle to see the connection between Roger Waters and Palestinian literature.
What of Refaat Alareer, a professor initially scheduled to speak at the festival, who tweeted “Are most Jews evil? Of course they are." I don’t claim to know exactly where the line between antisemitism and anti-Zionism is, but I’m quite sure tweeting “most Jews are evil” is well outside the realm of constructive dialogue.
Guest columnist Tara Tarawneh, the author of the aforementioned op-ed, argues that the critics of the Palestine Writes convention are “spurred by colonial racism,” and interprets criticism of speakers like Waters and Alareer as an attack on the Palestinian and Arab community. This is not true. The Jewish community on campus embraces animated debate and discussion about Israel, but draws the line at the rhetoric espoused by speakers that goes far beyond critiquing Israel and into antisemitism.
Ms. Tarawneh writes of how we must make Penn a safer place for Arab students. I wholeheartedly agree. However, making Penn a safer place for Arab students does not need to be done at the expense of other students. Furthermore, it seems like a stretch to say that Roger Waters’ presence on campus in any way promotes that goal.
As a proponent of free speech, I think the show should go on. I don’t think we should boycott these events, or violently resist them. We should be interested in having a vigorous debate, but the university itself doesn’t have to be neutral here; the university doesn’t have to fund and host an event promoting hatred against its students. We can encourage a diversity of opinions and viewpoints on campus, while also condemning hatred where we see it. I applaud the lofty goal of celebrating Palestinian literature and culture, but next week’s festival will promote hatred as much as it does literature.
EITAN LINHART is a College sophomore studying mathematics from New York City, N.Y. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.