On Nov. 21, the University officially denied Penn Chavurah a space to screen the documentary film Israelism. They gave the justification that the film is not right for the climate on campus at this time. The University is censoring Jewish students for criticizing Israel.
Produced and directed by Jewish filmmakers, “Israelism” follows two American Jews as they witness Israel's treatment of Palestinians and unlearn the unconditional love for Israel that they had been taught since they were children. By censoring us, the University is capitulating to an extortionary lobby of far-right donors and politicians who insist on quashing all criticism of Israel, even at the expense of our safety and freedom of speech.
Censoring progressive Jews is the latest example of Penn's adherence to the far-right lobby. Other examples include Penn's demeaning treatment of the Palestine Writes Literature Festival, selective outrage at violent threats made to community members on the basis of their ethnicities and political views, and dishonest representation of calls for Palestinian liberation, even as the Palestinian population undergoes a genocide.
The University does not censor pro-Israel events. On Nov. 2, Penn Hillel hosted an event with Shmuel Lynn, the founder of Meor Penn. Lynn told his audience that they needed to prepare for war on behalf of Israel. He said, "it is not trite to say that there is … another front line. There's another camp of battle … I'm in the streets of New York City, in Greenwich Village. You're on a college campus."
Penn did not deem Lynn's rhetoric too vitriolic for the campus climate. But Penn has deemed our film — which advocates peace, not war — somehow deserving of censorship.
By discriminating against us for our political views, Penn has demonstrated that it only protects speech that its donors approve. Penn is not protecting free speech. Penn is not even following its own Open Expression Guidelines. Section 1, Subsection B of the Open Expression Guidelines say: “the substance or the nature of the views expressed is not an appropriate basis for any restriction upon or encouragement of an assembly or a demonstration.”
Penn has also demonstrated a disregard for Jewish safety. Jewish tradition teaches us to think critically, to question, to dialogue, and when we are confronted with injustice, to speak out. In the past month, President Magill has released at least eight statements insisting on the University's concern with antisemitism. But in censoring us, Penn demonstrates it is not really committed to protecting Jewish students. Penn is much more committed to satisfying its donors and satiating the far-right political apparatus lobbying for Israel's illegal, inhumane, and indefensible assault on Gaza. Silencing us does not keep us safe.
Similar to how silencing Palestinian students or pretending that Palestinian students do not exist, silencing progressive Jewish students gives the far-right lobby what they want. Silencing us means caving to the 26 Republican congresspeople and Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie, who have, in recent weeks, targeted free speech at Penn for their own political gain, in complete disregard for the human rights of the population of Gaza.
Silencing us means giving license to the far-right lobby to dictate campus discourse, even at the expense of the safety of Jewish, Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, and other students and faculty.
We have a message for the far right: You can bully our university. You can try to buy it out. But you will never buy our silence. We will screen our film as scheduled: on Nov. 28, at 6:30 PM, in Meyerson Hall, Room B1.
And we have a message for President Magill: It's the same message that hundreds of Penn students, faculty, and community members have been saying for months. You are a leader of this university. With all due respect, show some leadership. When a group like Penn Chavurah comes to you with an opportunity to initiate a dialogue, we are counting on you to set the tone, not shut us down. When bullies come to campus with thick checkbooks, doxxing trucks, and violent threats, we are counting on you to tell them loudly: hands off our school. We invite all members of the Penn community, including all administrators, to engage us in good-faith dialogue at our screening tomorrow night.
PENN CHAVURAH is a leftist Jewish student group founded in 2021 as a response to the strong Zionist ties of Penn Hillel isolating parts of Penn’s Jewish community. Chavurah serves as a place of Jewish community and cultural celebration on campus, with biweekly Shabbat dinners and other discussion events. Chavurah welcomes all students, Jewish or not, to attend our events and get involved! Their email is firstname.lastname@example.org.