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Criticism mounts against UPenn president after she declines to say calls for genocide of Jews constitute harassment

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(JTA) — Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro said the University of Pennsylvania board should make a “determination” about the school’s president, who is facing pressure to resign after she declined to say outright that calls for the genocide of Jews violate the university’s code of conduct.

The outcry follows a congressional hearing on Tuesday in which the presidents of Penn, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were all asked whether calls for the genocide of Jews constitute bullying or harassment on campus. All three said it depended on “context.”

The exchange has gone viral and prompted broad condemnation, including from the White House. Biden administration spokesman Andrew Bates said in an email, “It’s unbelievable that this needs to be said: calls for genocide are monstrous and antithetical to everything we represent as a country.”

“Any statements that advocate for the systematic murder of Jews are dangerous and revolting – and we should all stand firmly against them, on the side of human dignity and the most basic values that unite us as Americans,” Bates added.

Shapiro, a Jewish Democrat, is among the most prominent voices calling on Penn’s president, Liz Magill, to face consequences for her response during the hearing. Shapiro did not say Magill should be fired. But he asked the board to convene soon and said if it did not, he said he would see what the state could do.

“Right now the board at Penn has a serious decision they need to make,” Shapiro said Wednesday. He said the board should “meet soon” to determine whether the “testimony under oath of their president in front of Congress represents the values of the University of Pennsylvania and the views of the board of the University of Pennsylvania.”

While Penn is a private institution, its charter names the state’s governor as a non-voting trustee — a position with considerable influence if not power. Shapiro said he would wait to hear from the Penn board before considering any state action.

“I’ve said many times, leaders have a responsibility to speak and act with moral clarity, and Liz Magill failed to meet that simple test,” Shapiro said.

In addition to Shapiro’s comments, Marc Rowan, the chair of Wharton, Penn’s business school, has called on the university’s board to withdraw its support for Magill, according to The New York Times. A petition calling for her resignation has garnered 1,500 signatures. Eyal Yacoby, a Penn student who joined Republican leaders at a press conference prior to the hearing on Tuesday, has filed a lawsuit with another student alleging that the university “subjects them to a pervasively hostile educational environment,” the campus newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, reported.

Shapiro made clear that there was little love lost between him and Magill ever since the campus hosted an event on Palestinian culture in September that included speakers who Jewish groups have said are antisemitic. Following that conference, donors have withdrawn  their support from the school, and a federal civil rights complaint has been filed against it.

“I have spoken to President Magill multiple times since that hateful festival that they had on campus,” he said. “I’ve spoken with the chairman of the board multiple times, I made concrete steps that I thought they needed to take to make sure that all students feel safe on campus. They have seemingly failed every step of the way to take concrete action to make sure all students feel safe on campus. And then, the testimony yesterday took it to the next level.”

Jewish groups also condemned the exchange on “genocide” at the congressional hearing.

“How can Jewish and pro-Israel students and faculty possibly feel safe when fellow students and faculty can call for their elimination with impunity?” the American Jewish Committee said in a statement Wednesday.

Also Wednesday, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations wrote to all 50 governors recommending an “action plan” to make campuses safer for Jews.

One recommendation was that governors “conduct a third-party review of university policies and procedures related to antisemitism” that would “consider campus environment, including an assessment of antisemitic attitudes, current university policies for investigating antisemitism complaints, and consistency of treatment in handling of antisemitism complaints versus other kinds of discrimination.”

Shapiro was speaking to reporters  after visiting Goldie’s, a kosher eatery targeted over the weekend by pro-Palestinian protesters who accused it of “genocide,” which Shapiro likened to Nazi Germany.

Shapiro had stopped by Goldie’s in a show of solidarity and for lunch (a falafel sandwich and a tahini shake.). He said the targeting of Jewish-owned stores was antisemitic.

“What they did was blatant antisemitism,” he said. “They protested in restaurants, simply because it’s owned by a Jewish person. That is the kind of antisemitic tropes that we saw in 1930s Germany.”

This article originally appeared on JTA.org.

The post Criticism mounts against UPenn president after she declines to say calls for genocide of Jews constitute harassment appeared first on The Forward.

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