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Hundreds of University alumni sent a letter calling on the university to investigate eight Penn professors for alleged anti-Zionist sentiment.

Credit: Anjali Dhupam

A group of Penn students and alumni recommended punishment for eight Penn professors allegedly involved in antisemitic behavior in a letter to Interim Penn President Larry Jameson.

The letter, which was obtained by The Daily Pennsylvanian, was signed by 149 alumni and current students and was sent to Jameson on March 28. The signatories wrote that the professors identified were "in dereliction of their scholarly responsibilities" through their conduct and recommended a list of major sanctions allowed by the Faculty Handbook — as well as additional consequences due to the "seriousness" of the professors' actions. 

"[The professors] are fostering an environment and a worldview that not only puts our children and community at risk, but one that encapsulates the antithesis of the very values and ideals that are the foundation of this university, this country, and a free society," the signatories wrote.

A University spokesperson declined the DP's request for comment. 

The letter specifically cites eight professors — referred to collectively as “The Professors” — against whom they recommend the University should take action. These professors include political science professor Anne Norton, Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of History Eve Troutt Powell, Arabic literature professor Huda Fakhreddine, Persian literature professor Fatemeh Shams, Perelman School of Medicine professor Mohammed Alghamdi, English professor Ania Loomba, and lecturers Dwayne Booth and Ahmad Almallah.

"Punishing anyone for exercising their right to speak out against the actions of a foreign government currently engaged in what many in the international community consider ongoing war crimes would be irresponsible and unacceptable," Booth wrote in a statement to the DP.

Booth also described the equation of criticisms of the Israeli government — when the criticisms are not based on "pandering stereotypes that denigrate the history, beliefs, or traditions of Judaism" — with antisemitism as a "lazy and inane notion."

"This is a false equivalency and we must work to dispel the grotesque idea that accusations alone should be allowed to stand as sufficient proof of villainy and, therefore, censorship," Booth added. 

None of the other professors mentioned in the letter responded to the DP's requests for comment. 

"Those who accuse me of antisemitism rely on — and perpetuate — a complete erasure of Palestinians," Norton tweeted on April 20.

In the letter, which was originally circulated by President of the Alumni Class Leadership Council David Blatte, the signatories highlight a “thin line” between free speech and hate speech. They write that “the Professors” have “significantly impacted” students' — both Jewish and non-Jewish — ability to practice their rights as students. 

Blatte did not respond to a request for comment. 

"We conclude that disciplinary action is necessary when such disrespectful and dismissive treatment negatively and inequitably impacts the learning environment, whether in the classroom, elsewhere on campus, or in other professional settings in which students reasonably expect to learn and to be treated equitably," they wrote. 

The letter also includes screenshots of X posts, Instagram comments, and political cartoons as “problematic examples" of the professors' allegedly discriminatory, antisemitic, or offensive behavior.

The signatories recommended major sanctions similar to those recommended by a Faculty Senate hearing board for University of Pennsylvania Carey Law professor Amy Wax in June 2023 — claiming that Penn's treatment of Wax "has exposed a clear double standard."

They also suggested "additional steps" such as consistent antisemitism training and restrictions pertaining to their affiliation with Penn and participation in University events. 

1972 College graduate Jeffrey Rothbard chose not to sign the letter, writing in a statement to the DP that he believes “alumni are becoming too involved in the administration of the University.”

"I am an absolutist when [First Amendment] rights are concerned," Rothbard wrote. "I do not want anyone other than a judge to determine whether such rights should be curtailed." 

Fakhreddine and Powell filed a lawsuit against Penn in March, alleging a pattern of “McCarthyism” that has stifled academic freedom at Penn, specifically in regards to the ongoing congressional scrutiny of the University. In April, Penn moved toward a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. 

In February, Booth faced controversy over his political cartoons, which some online claimed utilized antisemitic tropes. Jameson criticized Booth's cartoons, calling them "reprehensible."