Penn Take​s a Stand



There have been moments in the past few years when the University of Pennsylvania's leadership has fallen a bit short in its judgment.In 2002, when former Harvard University President Lawrence Summers initiated an advertisement condemning the growth of anti-Semitism on American campuses in the context of attacks on Israel, 300 other college presidents signed the ad. But Penn president Judith Rodin's name was conspicuous by its absence.

Last fall, Rodin's successor, Amy Gutmann, was the subject of a brief firestorm of her own when she, perhaps unwittingly, posed for a photograph at a Halloween party with a student dressed as a suicide bomber. Gutmann quickly condemned the symbolism of the student's costume, but the incident did nothing to allay concerns that at Penn — as is the case elsewhere — students, faculty and administrators simply don't get it when it comes to terrorism.

All of this makes the news this week that Gutmann has condemned the British academic boycott of Israel all the more welcome.

In a statement issued by the university, Gutmann rightly states that such boycotts — now joined by British trade unionists, as well as academics — remain contrary to the principle of academic freedom, and that she condemns any effort to ostracize Israelis.

We wish the president had gone even further, and not only directly condemn the boycott as part of a campaign to destroy Israel but also announced, as some of her colleagues have done, that anyone who boycotts Israelis may also boycott Penn. But we are nonetheless glad that Gutmann has taken a firm stand on the issue.

If there is any doubt that the campaign to isolate Israel in this country is alive and well today, they need only point to a recent decision taken by an influential body within the United Methodist Church that it will seek divestment from 20 major companies that do business with Israel. At a time when some mainline churches, such as the Presbyterians, appear to be backing off from their own ill-considered divestment threats, the Methodist move indicates that the fight to squelch anti-Israel divestment is far from over.

We need the support of academia; we need leaders to stand up, and wholeheartedly condemn both boycotts and divestment from Israel. We commend Gutmann's stance, and certainly hope that it will not be the last time that she will speak up on this vital issue.


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