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The Penn Middle East Center on Sept. 7, 2022.

Credit: Jesse Zhang

Penn Middle East Center director Harun Küçük submitted his resignation on Nov. 28, according to the Penn chapter of the American Association of University Professors.

In an “urgent message” released Tuesday afternoon, AAUP-Penn’s executive committee expressed concern about alleged violations of academic freedom by University administration regarding Penn’s decision to refuse to allow Penn Chavurah, a progressive Jewish student group, to host a film screening of “Israelism.”

“The administration’s refusal to allow students to screen a documentary film on campus is one more expression of our university leadership’s failure to uphold the principles of academic freedom—principles enshrined in Penn’s policies and essential to the mission of a university,” AAUP-Penn’s executive committee wrote.

The film screening is currently slated to be held on Nov. 28 at 6:30 p.m. in Meyerson Hall B1, a room that was reserved by the MEC. However, the statement wrote that the MEC has reportedly been told by Penn administrators to cancel the screening, and that Penn Chavurah’s status and funding as a student group may be jeopardized. 

AAUP-Penn's executive committee wrote that the organization was "alarmed" by the resignation and claims that Küçük submitted his resignation in response to ​​”inappropriate pressure from administrators.” 

“His resignation underlines the gravity of the crisis, and the responsibility the President and Provost have for creating and exacerbating it,” AAUP-Penn wrote. 

In response to a request for comment, Küçük confirmed his resignation, adding “I don’t believe I have anything to say. I would not have resigned if I had any comment left in me.” While Küçük will no longer serve in his capacity as MEC director, he told The Daily Pennsylvanian that he will remain as faculty at Penn. Küçük is an associate professor in the History and Sociology of Science Department. 

The Middle East Center declined to comment, but Executive Director John Ghazvinian confirmed in an email to the DP that he was aware of the resignation.

A University spokesperson has not responded to a request for comment.

The AAUP statement comes a day after Penn Chavurah and IfNotNow Philly hosted a rally in Penn Commons where dozens of students protested the University’s refusal to allow for the screening of “Israelism."

The film screening was originally scheduled over the summer to take place on Oct. 24 but was postponed due to the recency of the Hamas attacks on Israel, according to College senior and Penn Chavurah organizer Jack Starobin. The organization submitted a request to reschedule on Oct. 26, and on Nov. 21, the University denied their request, Starobin previously told the DP. The group still plans to screen the film tonight in a room reserved by MEC faculty.

“When a faculty member stands up for free speech, they're not just standing up for the group that's speaking, they're standing up for the academic freedom of all students on this campus,” Starobin said in a statement to the DP about Küçük’s resignation, adding that the group plans to continue “to keep speaking out.”

“Israelism” is an award-winning documentary on the transformation of American Jews in relation to Israel. It follows the lives of two young American Jews who, after witnessing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, develop a conflicting relationship with Israel and the ongoing conflict. The film has been screened at other universities, including Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and the University of Notre Dame. 

“Israelism” has drawn controversy from national organizations for its portrayal of Israel. Earlier this month, Hunter College also canceled a screening of “Israelism,” prompting backlash from the school's Senate

“We encourage all faculty members to attend [the screening] to demonstrate their support for academic freedom,” AAUP-Penn wrote. 

On Oct. 28, the AAUP released a statement saying that fundamental aspects of University operations had been “impaired” by administrators and donors' response to the ongoing violence in Gaza and Israel and the Palestine Writes Literature Festival.

That statement from October said that "departments experienced violations of academic freedom in their classrooms” due to the University’s response to the festival.

In September 2022, the DP reported that the MEC lost all federal funding due to insufficient institutional support from the University. The United States Department of Education had previously granted the MEC Title VI funding due to its status as a National Resource Center and its allocation of student language fellowships with the DOE’s Foreign Language & Area Studies program. In October 2022, Penn announced that it would fully fund the MEC for four and a half years after outrage from students. 

Staff reporter Lara Cota contributed reporting.