2012/02/22: Smears continue

Originally posted on Mondoweiss, Feb 22, 2012

by Sarah Shehadeh (PennBDS)

PennBDS still being smeared two weeks after student conference

Though it has been two weeks since the much-discussed PennBDS conference, it seems that some opponents of Palestine solidarity simply cannot let it go. While some Israel-backers have, begrudgingly, admitted that PennBDS won the battle against their propaganda and David Bernstein’s JTA Op-Ed  ‘Kick the reaction addiction on campus  makes a public call for students to resist granting BDS more publicity, many continue to do just that.

The lag time isn’t the only strange thing about this staggered flow of response to the conference (see this 2-week-late answer by Penn Friends of Israel President Noah Feit to a column by PennBDS organizers, and this retroactive condemnation of the event by Lee Bender). It appears that the Daily Pennsylvanian, a student publication, cannot get enough of the BDS-afforded limelight.

What else could explain the fact that, nearly two weeks after the conference, the Daily Pennsylvanian ran not one, but two inflammatory op-eds from Penn employees (one by Professor of Radiology Jerry Glickson, and another by senior software engineer Gamaliel Isaac at the University hospital)? These articles, brimming with questionable historical manipulation and personal attacks, are the latest example of what seems to be a new tradition at the DP: giving a public platform for senior Penn staff to channel their unfiltered anger towards undergraduate members of a University-recognized student group. Recall Ruben Gur’s appalling and Holocaust-degrading article:

“Penn has allowed itself to be associated with this hateful genocidal organization….The purpose of BDS as presented seems similar to what was apparently stated in their version of “Mein Kampf” (I am referring to Omar Barghouti’s book titled “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions”)….The aim of the hateful and discriminatory BDS rhetoric is to delegitimize Israel in preparation for the ultimate goal of its destruction. A relevant precedent for such a movement is the groups organized by the Nazis in the 1930’s to boycott, divest and sanction Jews and their businesses. Sadly, now as then, there are Jews among the posse in the assault on their own people. The macabre sight of the likes of Stella Kübler…and the Capos in the extermination camps is about to be replayed here at Penn.”

What is more unsettling than the potential damage such attacks can wreak on the young members of PennBDS is the authors’ sickening abuse of comparisons to the Holocaust and lynch mobs. Were the horrors of lynch mobs and Nazi rule really comparable to a 48-hour, student-run conference?

It is mind-boggling to think that Jerry Glickson, a Holocaust survivor himself, would feel justified in comparing undergraduate student organizers to Nazis.

“Surely, if the BDS conference was promulgating the premise that the earth was flat or supporting the genetic principles of LaMarc and Lysenko over those of Darwin, there might be an outcry about the limits of academic free speech when it is used to promulgate false and disproved ideas….Had the Ku Kux Klan proposed to march through Penn, it is likely that the administration would find some basis for denying them a marching permit.

The BDS conference is akin to granting The National Socialist Party the right to march through Skokie, Illinois and display swastikas in front of a population that included many holocaust survivors.”

Should Glickson or the others have bothered to look, they might have found comfort in this op-ed, written by  Penn political science professor Ian Lustick who attended the conference.

While these individuals, like many who have graced the DP’s pages in recent months, have utterly failed to provide any evidence for their vicious accusations against the conference and its organizers, their words betray their own lack of intellectual integrity. 

In the DP’s quest for controversy-fed publicity, it seems, hate speech guised as “opinion” has been deemed acceptable, while factuality, civility, and the well-being of students has become collateral damage.

Indeed, while a slew of faculty members have shown intense interest in vilifying the conference and its organizers, Penn’s President Amy Gutman remained aloof despite appeals that she step in to defend her students from such reckless abuse of authority. While she took the time to write a welcome letter to Alan Dershowitz, who spoke against the conference on February 3 , she has been unresponsive to the indignation of PennBDS organizers and conference speakers at being subjected to such alarming slander.

Penn President Amy Gutman:

“We recognize the right of any student or student group to freely express their opinions. Unfortunately, some then assume that those words carry the University’s endorsement. With regard to the BDS conference this weekend, that could not be further from the truth.

It is important that you all know that we have been unambiguous in repudiating the positions that are espoused by those sponsoring that conference. They run counter to our principles, our ideals and importantly, our actions. I am very proud of the active collaborations that Penn has with Israel and hope that we will see those grow in the years ahead…..Let me say it in the clearest possible words: we do not support the goals of BDS.”

Considering the DP refused to run the news of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s endorsement of PennBDS, released on Saturday February 4th, in the subsequent Monday’s paper, claiming it was “old news,” one has to wonder how much longer the editors will allow the anti-endorsement free-for-all to continue.

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