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A letter signed by over 2,000 Penn alumni and supporters demands that President Liz Magill takes action against the Palestine Writes Festival. Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi

Multiple current members of Penn's Board of Trustees signed an open letter to President Liz Magill calling on her to take additional steps to distance the University from the Palestine Writes Literature Festival.

The letter — which was obtained by The Daily Pennsylvanian — was signed by more than 2,000 Penn alumni and University affiliates, who expressed “deep concerns” about the festival, which begins tomorrow. Signatories included numerous current and former members of the University Board of Trustees, members of boards across multiple Penn schools, and notable donors to the University.

Names of current and former trustees listed on the document include Robert Stavis, Andrew Heyer, and Marc Rowan; who is also chair of the Wharton Board of Advisors. 

“The University of Pennsylvania should be doing all within its power to distance itself from the event’s antisemitic speakers, make clear that such antisemitism is wholly at odds with the university’s values, and take proactive steps to ensure that Jewish students, faculty, and staff are safe and welcome at Penn,” the signatories wrote to Magill.

A University spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Magill, Provost John Jackson Jr., and School of Arts and Sciences Dean Steven Fluharty previously released a statement on Sept. 12 in response to growing criticism about alleged previous antisemitic remarks from some speakers scheduled to appear at the festival. 

The letter signed by trustees also called for Penn and academic departments who are affiliated with the festival to clarify how much they are supporting the event and the implementation of “mandatory antisemitism awareness training.”

A request for comment was left with organizers of the Palestine Writes Literature Festival.

One of the letter's signatories, 1986 College graduate and Wharton Undergraduate Executive Board member Hope Taitz wrote in a statement to the DP that the letter was intended to "hold [Penn leadership] accountable" for addressing increasing antisemitic bigotry.

"I have been a loyal and active member of this university for 38 years," Taitz wrote. "This event has so many alumni exceedingly agitated as evidenced by the over 2,500 signatures we received to date."

1992 Wharton graduate and Wharton Board of Directors member Jacqueline Reses told The Daily Pennsylvanian that she found it "incredibly disappointing" that Penn has not been more "actively vocal" in standing up and speaking out against the antisemitism. 

"First and foremost, Liz Magill should immediately have the event canceled and not support using the facilities of Penn to support what has become a forum for hate speech," Reses said, describing a difference between hate speech versus those who "embrace different cultural views."

Reses said that while she enjoys supporting the University through donations and has endowed multiple scholarships, her future giving would depend on the judgment of administrators. She said she has not decided whether or not she will pause her donations.

"If I have the ability to support students in different types of programs, I would like to do that, even in the face of an administration that has clearly been hostile to the Jewish community," Reses said.

Other notable signatories of the letter include Chair of the Wharton Board of Advisors Jeff Blau, former chair of the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School Board of Overseers Paul Levy, Alumni Class Leadership Council President David Blatte, and former vice chair of Penn's Board of Trustees William Mack. 

On Sept. 18, 36 Penn faculty signed a letter supporting the festival. Prior to that, 16 students — representing various Jewish and Israeli advocacy student interest groups across campus — sent a letter to Penn administrators on Sept. 8 expressing concerns, specifically about the statements and actions of academic Marc Lamont Hill and Pink Floyd founder Roger Waters.

Palestine Writes addressed a letter to Magill on Sept. 2 in response to criticism of the festival and released it publicly on Sept. 16, saying they felt "compelled to respond" following criticism of the event.

"We know the heavy price that groups and individuals like us are forced to pay for daring to uphold or fight for the dignity, rights, and freedom of Palestinians, including loss of livelihood and persistent harassment, even loss of life," Abulhawa said, citing examples of Palestinians who have lived under Israeli government control.

Organizers and supporters of the festival have repeatedly disavowed any accusations of antisemitism. 

“At a time when we are experiencing record levels of anti-Jewish hate across the country and an unprecedented surge of antisemitic incidents on U.S. college campuses, providing a platform for such extremely antisemitic voices will undermine the sense of security and belonging for Jewish students at UPenn and beyond,” the letter to Magill wrote. 

Some alumni donors told the DP that they are considering retracting or redirecting their donations to the University.

2001 Wharton graduate Beny Rubinstein, who is part of the leadership team of the Wharton Club of Israel, said he has been an active donor for over twenty years to the school, but he plans to repurpose his donations. Rubinstein added that his concerns include the occurrence of the festival on Yom Kippur, which is one of the holiest days of the Jewish calendar, when many Jews are praying and fasting. 

“There is not even inclusiveness, because if the Jewish community wanted to have a dialogue and participate in a constructive way in the ‘free exchange of ideas,’ obviously it's not a day where they could do so. There is no real inclusion on this exchange of ideas,” he said.

1999 College and Graduate School of Education graduate Eva Gold and 1986 College graduate Josh Markel — who donate to the Philadelphia Writing Project at the Graduate School of Education — told the DP that they support the festival and do not plan to alter their donations.

"I cannot agree with everything. We might even find some things objectionable. But I don't think that is the point. I think the point is to be open to hearing about the feelings, experiences, and insights of people from a whole range of backgrounds, even ones that, you know, somebody on campus might not agree with,” Gold said. 

1992 College graduate Nina Bauer Shapiro, who signed the open letter, said she is redirecting her donations to the University to Penn Hillel.

“I feel like the university is not standing up enough. And so I'd rather put my effort into places that will stand up,” Shapiro said, referring to Penn Hillel.

Penn Hillel was vandalized this morning slightly before a service for members of the Orthodox Jewish community, according to multiple witnesses. An individual knocked over "several pieces of furniture" and shouted "antisemitic obscenities about Jewish people," Hillel wrote in a statement to the DP.

“As alumni and supporters of University of Pennsylvania, we value its reputation and remain steadfast in our commitment to upholding its values,” the letter concludes. “We ask that you take the steps above to ensure the same.”