US House Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) is calling on the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University — two of America's most prestigious institutions of higher education — to keep antisemitism off their campuses, citing recent incidents that have dismayed the American Jewish community.
"I have written to many university administrators and the US Department of Education about the rise of antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses," Gottheimer wrote in a letter dated Sept. 10 but announced on Wednesday to University of Pennsylvania President M. Elizabeth Magill. "I am dismayed that this is now occurring at my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. While policy discussion and differing views are a welcome and critical part of building cultural understanding, they cannot provide a bully pulpit for those who seek to divide others. If the university's goal is to promote mutual understanding and bring students together, it will fail so long as antisemites and anti-Israel advocates are given a platform to spew hate."
The Algemeiner reported earlier this week that the University of Pennsylvania is preparing to host a "Palestine Writes Literature Festival" that will feature a gamut of anti-Zionist activists who have promoted antisemitic tropes and called for violence against Israel. Speakers listed on the event's itinerary include Islamic University of Gaza professor Refaat Alareer, who said in 2018, "Are most Jews evil? Of course they are." Another listed speaker, Palestinian researcher Salman Abu Sitta, previously said during an interview that "Jews were hated in Europe because they played a role in the destruction of the economy in some of the countries, so they would hate them."
Roger Waters, former frontman of Pink Floyd, is also a scheduled speaker. In recent years he has made comments about "Jewish power" and compared Israel to Nazi Germany. In May, during a concert held in Berlin, he performed in what looked like a Nazi SS officer uniform. A projection that played during the concert also compared Holocaust victim Anne Frank to Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh — who was accidentally shot and killed last year while covering an Israeli military raid in the West Bank — and the show was deemed as highly offensive to the Jewish community.
In his letter, Gottheimer also noted that City University of New York (CUNY) professor Marc Lamont Hill is also scheduled to speak at the literature festival.
In 2018, Hill was rebuked by Temple University, his former employer, and fired by CNN after calling for a "free Palestine from the river to the sea," a slogan widely interpreted as a call for the destruction of Israel. Recently, he posted a photograph of himself holding a sign that said he supported the American Anthropological Association's endorsement of the the so-called Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to isolate Israel from the international community as a step toward the Jewish state's eventual elimination. Hill has also publicly associated with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan in the past and refused for many months to denounce his antisemitism.
During a 2018 interview with The Breakfast Club, a popular urban radio broadcast, Hill called Farrakhan his "brother" and accused Israeli police of training American officers to kill Black people.
"Hill has never adequately apologized for these remarks," Gottheimer said. "He has referred to Israel as a 'Zionist project' and continues to promote anti-Israel rhetoric in various activist circles."
In a separate letter to Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber, Gottheimer raised concerns about a "blood libel" book being taught by Department of Near Eastern Studies professor Satyel Larson this fall.
The book, Rutgers University professor Jasbir Puar's The Right to Maim, accuses the Israeli Defense Forces of "maiming" Palestinians and harvesting their organs. Puar began making such claims in Feb. 2016, when she said at Vassar College that "young Palestinian men ... were mined for organs for scientific research." At the same event, she accused Israel of committing "genocide in slow motion." Later that year, during a panel at Dartmouth College, she said Israel uses "maiming as a deliberate biopolitical tactic" to enforce settler-colonialism.
"As one of the most prestigious universities in the United States, Princeton must uphold rigorous academic standards by utilizing course materials that match its caliber," Gottheimer wrote. "The use of materials containing antisemitic tropes and anti-Israel sentiment in a Princeton classroom clearly contradict the university's mission of inclusivity, which includes protecting Jewish students."
The congressman added: "Employing a professor has openly endorsed the [BDS movement] and has utilized her faculty position to promote beliefs antithetical to school values should alarm your administration. This is political activism masquerading as scholarship."
The letters were commended on Thursday by StopAntisemitism, a nonprofit organization that tracks antisemitic hate crimes and incidents across the world.
"We applaud Congressman Gottheimer for taking a stand against these antisemitic incidents and appreciation his ongoing allyship," StopAntisemitism founder and executive director Liora Rez told The Algemeiner. "StopAntisemitism continues to call on the University of Pennsylvania and President Magill to drop all of the antisemitism speakers from the 'Palestine Writes' event and urges Princeton to remove the antisemitic book from its curricula that falsely accuses Israel of murdering Palestinians for organ sales."
Gottheimer's letters come amid a nationwide surge in antisemitic incidents on college campuses across the US — a problem that has been tracked by several nonprofits. Groups such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the AMCHA Initiative have monitored a significant increase in displays of both traditional antisemitism — discrimination against Jews based on religion or race — and anti-Zionism targeting Jewish students over their support for Israel.
In a new report issued on Wednesday, the ADL said anti-Israel activists on US college campuses have embraced a strategy of vilifying Zionists and supporting terrorism against the Jewish state, citing several examples of anti-Israel activism harming Jews on campus. In one such instance, Georgetown University co-sponsored a conference featuring British academic David Miller, who Bristol University fired as a professor for harassing Jewish students. He has accused the "Zionist movement" of "grooming Jewish kids."
The report also cited Harvard University's Palestine Solidarity Committee erecting a so-called "apartheid wall" and a CUNY Law School commencement speech in which a graduate charged that Jewish money determines the school's policy on Israel.
In other examples of anti-Israel activism cited in the report, the group Students for Justice in Palestine expressed on at least 10 occasions admiration for Leila Khaled, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — a US-designated terror group — who is known for hijacking two planes in the 1960s.
"Every year, young Jewish people go to college with the hope that their Jewish identities, including their connection to the Jewish state, will be welcome on campus," ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement. "This sense of community is increasingly at risk as concerning anti-Israel incidents increase. University leaders must respond effectively to this hatred so that Jewish students feel safe."