UPenn to review event policies after Palestinian culture festival drew backlash


((JEWISH REVIEW)) —  The University of Pennsylvania is launching a review of its policies “to be better aware of who is coming to campus,” the latest fallout from a recent Palestinian cultural festival featuring public figures accused of antisemitism. 

The university also pledged last month to add antisemitism awareness training to its equity and inclusion programs for faculty, staff, and students. 

The Palestine Writes Literature Festival, which ran Sep. 22-24 on Penn’s campus, attracted significant criticism from Jewish organizations that objected to names on the conference’s list of speakers. That roster included Roger Waters, the Pink Floyd frontman repeatedly accused of bigotry against Jews, along with others who, the group said, have used language that endorses Israel’s destruction.

In the leadup to the festival, the campus was also the site of two antisemitic incidents. On Sep. 13, a swastika was found in a painting booth in the school’s Stuart Weitzman School of Design. A little more than a week later, a man who campus police said was “experiencing a crisis” entered Penn Hillel and vandalized the lobby, shouting profanities including “F—k the Jews” and “They killed JC,” a reference to the accusation that Jews killed Jesus.

Now, Scott Bok, who chairs the university’s board of trustees, has said the school will review its policies on allowing external groups to host events on campus, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. The details and scope of the review are unclear, though it will not involve reviewing every on-campus speaker. 

“Neither our board nor university leadership want to be in the business of vetting and approving each of the few thousand of speakers who are invited by faculty or student groups to speak on our campus each year,” Bok said. “That wouldn’t be appropriate. But our president has indicated that the university will look at some administrative processes to be better aware of who is coming to campus, particularly for large-scale events.”

The festival attracted 1,500 attendees, according to the Inquirer, though on the day he was scheduled to appear for a panel, Waters claimed in a video on Instagram that he was prohibited from entering Penn’s campus. The school denied that he was banned, and said it was given insufficient notice that he would be speaking in person, which would necessitate security upgrades. He appeared at the festival virtually.