The Palestine Writes Literature Festival, scheduled for Sept. 22-24 on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus in Philadelphia, describes itself as “the only North American literature festival dedicated to celebrating and promoting cultural productions of Palestinian writers and artists,” according to its website.
The festival has drawn outrage from Jewish groups on campus and nationwide — who say that previous statements by the festival’s speakers threaten the safety and belonging of Jewish students at Penn.
In a statement released on Sept. 15 the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia said:
“The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and ADL’s Philadelphia Chapter have been privately urging University of Pennsylvania officials to publicly condemn the Palestine Writes festival since the middle of August.
Philadelphia is a vibrant community committed to respecting people of diverse faiths and backgrounds, and we recognize and commend the festival’s goal of celebrating Palestinian literature, art, and culture. However, we must speak out when such a festival is used to disguise hateful rhetoric.
The conference includes multiple presenters with a history of spreading inflammatory rhetoric and antisemitism that go against the fundamental principles of academic integrity and respectful discourse. The impact of these narratives will create a hostile environment for Jewish students on campus, especially on the eve of the Yom Kippur holiday, which begins after sundown on Sept. 24.
The festival has already emboldened antisemitism on Penn’s campus. This morning, a perpetrator ran into the Penn’s Hillel building, spewing antisemitic tropes and vandalizing the Hillel lobby. This perpetrator has since been arrested. With student safety paramount, we encourage anyone on campus to report any additional incidents to University of Pennsylvania police officials.
Freedom of speech and critical thinking are important and should be uplifted. However, freedom to espouse antisemitism and teach hate cannot be tolerated. We are appalled by the global rise of antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment and refuse to accept it in our community.
We appreciate the University of Pennsylvania’s recognition of the festival’s problematic nature and its misalignment with university values, and we commend their commitment to putting more protocols in place to address antisemitism on its campus.
We urge the Greater Philadelphia community to stand united with us in declaring that antisemitism and hate of any form are not welcome here.”
READ: Jewish Groups Condemn Palestine Writes Festival
Response on Campus
As part of its ongoing response to the festival, Penn Hillel announced a campus-wide initiative to show support for Jewish students. Penn Hillel is planning a “massive” Shabbat Together for students on Friday at 7:30 p.m. to promote unity on campus. Please click here to learn more.
*This statement was updated on Sept. 21, 2023.