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A group of Penn faculty announced the formation of Penn Faculty for Justice in Palestine on Jan. 17. Credit: Chenyao Liu

Penn Faculty for Justice in Palestine, a collective of Penn faculty who say they are standing in solidarity with Palestinians, announced its formation in a statement published by The Daily Pennsylvanian on Wednesday.

The group — which includes lecturers, staff, and graduate employees — said that it stands in alliance with the "ongoing, and ever urgent, struggles of Palestinians resisting occupation, warfare and displacement" and advocates for "shared governance" of the University. 

PFJP also said that it rejects influence by donors and federal legislators on the University, calling on the administration to work alongside stakeholders in the Penn community to reject “Islamophobia, anti-Arab, antisemitic, and other racist attacks and harassment.”

According to the statement, the PFJP also intends to advocate for students and faculty to protest and be in support of the principles outlined in the pro-Palestinian United States Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel — part of the controversial Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.

The group also condemned what they said was University administration's "one-sided" handling of the Israel-Hamas war. In the statement, PFJP alleged that harassment and hate speech directed towards Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim students, as well as pro-Palestinian community members, on campus have been ignored. 

PFJP said it plans to inform, counsel, and bridge campus tensions which it said have been created as a result of the University’s response. In the wake of criticism from several fronts that it was failing to respond to hate on campus, the University announced a series of initiatives last fall, including a presidential commission to address "the interconnectedness of antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of hate, discrimination, and bias" on campus.

Pro-Israeli and Jewish students and faculty are among those who have criticized the University for also allegedly failing to protect Jewish students following antisemitic incidents last fall. In December, two Penn students filed a lawsuit against the University, alleging that the University has not sufficiently responded to antisemitism on campus. 

A group of over 300 Penn faculty previously signed an open letter calling on the University community to condemn the Hamas attacks on Israel and support Israel’s right to defend itself, demonstrating the division of faculty opinions on the conflict.

The statement from the new faculty group, PFJP, references former President Liz Magill’s hearing before Congress in December and criticizes Magill's pledge to “clarify and evaluate” what was deemed acceptable speech at the University. The PFJP wrote that this part of her testimony would necessitate the rewriting of the University’s Open Expression guidelines. In that case, the faculty said they plan to “defend [their] rights to unfettered scholarly research, debate, and critical thought and expression.” 

Magill testified in front of Congress alongside former Harvard University President Claudine Gay, Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Sally Kornbluth, and American University History and Jewish Studies professor Pamela Nadell. In a five-hour hearing, these individuals responded to questions from the United States House Committee on Education and the Workforce and spoke on Jewish student safety, free speech, and the role of donors in higher education.

At the hearing, Magill initially said it was "context dependent" when Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) asked her whether calling for the genocide of Jewish people violates Penn’s code of conduct. Stefanik referenced calls for "Intifada revolution" among some protesters on campus as calls for genocide.

Her comments fueled dozens of congressmen calling for Magill's removal; a House committee opening an investigation into Penn with the threat of subpoenas; and the Wharton Board of Advisors repeatedly calling for a change in University leadership.

PFJP also said it will participate in the broader Palestinian cause at Penn, in Philadelphia, and nationally. In particular, it said it anticipates working with the newly-formed Penn Alumni for Palestinian collective, joining the group's call for the University to clarify the “nature of the delegation [of Penn faculty who recently visited Israel] and [their] affiliation to the University.” 

The three-day Penn faculty trip aimed to offer “friendship and support" to Israel and included a visit to the Kfar Aza kibbutz — one of the locations where the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel occurred — and conversations with survivors. The trip — the first faculty from an American university to participate in a mission to Israel since Oct. 7 — was described as a success by the professors who attended, although some pro-Palestinian professors expressed criticism.