In response to a letter of protest written to them by a large group of Penn faculty and students, as well as concerned citizens, the organizers of the Wharton India Economic Forum withdrew their invitation to Narendra Modi, the chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat. The organizers “felt that the potential polarizing reactions from sub-segments of the alumni base, student body, and our supporters, might put Modi in a compromising position, which we would like to avoid at all costs … .” A storm of media coverage followed — every major TV network and national newspaper in India (and elsewhere) debated Modi’s being disinvited. Several of us were asked to comment and we have done so in a variety of fora.
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We are disturbed to see our distinguished colleague, Professor Ruben Gur, use inflammatory language comparing those he disagrees with to Nazis and anti-Semites. As teachers, our role is to model respectful and rigorous intellectual exchange, especially on highly politicized issues that evoke such impassioned responses. Calling a BDS conference “genocidal” and comparing its Jewish participants to “Kapos” in the extermination camps sadly trivializes the real history of the Holocaust. It also distorts the complex issues involved in the political debates about the region today. As scholars, we demonstrate how to carefully assess historical analogies rather than deploy them for rhetorical advantage.