Nearly 100 students gathered Sunday night for what is normally a 40-person, two-hour affair: the weekly Undergraduate Assembly meeting.
But this week, in addition to those 40 regulars, about 65 other students showed up, most of whom came to hear a controversial, last-minute proposal co-authored and brought to the UA by Hillel and the Penn Israel Coalition.
The proposal called for the University to withdraw its sponsorship, via the Political Science department and the Middle East Center, of tonight's visit by Norman Finkelstein, a professor at DePaul University, who is coming to speak as part of Palestine Awareness Week.
After two hours of debate and discussion among all those present, the UA decided not to put the resolution on the meeting's agenda.
According to the proposal, Finkelstein "is known for his radically anti-Jewish, anti-Israel and Holocaust revisionist reviews … [and] has repeatedly been shown to have fabricated history … and is considered by many … [to be] an illegitimate scholar."
For example, Finkelstein's book, The Holocaust Industry, was reviewed by The New York Times as "a novel variation on the anti-Semitic forgery, 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion' … [It] verges on paranoia and would serve anti-Semites around the world."
The Washington Post likewise characterized Finkelstein as "a writer celebrated by neo-Nazi groups for his Holocaust revisionism and comparisons of Israel to Nazi Germany."
The proposal continued to state that, "while student groups have a right to invite and host Finkelstein, … the active support of [the Political Science department and Middle East Center] gives legitimacy to his viewpoints, hurting the University's credibility and offending many in the community."
The UA bylaws state that, when late proposals such as this one are submitted within less than a week of a meeting, at least two-thirds of the body must vote to put the proposal on the agenda.
And although the UA was two votes shy of reaching that majority, many students present criticized the decision not to discuss it anyway.
"I think you should all be very embarrassed," Wharton senior and class president Andrew Kaplan told the UA. "If this can't become a part of the UA agenda, what can?"
Kaplan later said that the UA "hid behind parliamentary procedure" to avoid student concerns.
But UA officials are sticking by the decision.
"The UA made a very principled decision after spending two hours weighing different sides of this argument," UA Chair Brett Thalmann said.
He added that, "ultimately, [the UA] came to the decision that it wasn't appropriate to debate the proposal in its current form," calling it "biased and very emotionally charged."
Students - including UA members - held different opinions on whether the UA made the right decision in the end.
"I think the biggest mistake that the UA made was not allowing a large group of constituents to at least present what they had to say to us last night," said College junior and UA member Jason Karsh, who said he still stands by the UA's final decision.
"My primary concern is that student government be responsive to those they claim to represent, and, in this regard, they failed," Kaplan added.
Conversely, College junior Ashish Bhumbla and College and Wharton sophomore Wilson Tong said it was not the UA's place to make decisions about such political matters.