University of Pennsylvania report disavows BDS but rejects globally accepted antisemitism definition

The report said that the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement is ‘discriminatory’ and ‘anti-intellectual’ and called on the university to reiterate opposition to it ‘immediately.’

By Dion J. Pierre, The Algemeiner

The University of Pennsylvania Task Force on Antisemitism has issued a final report recommending various ways in which school officials should address rising antisemitism on campus, capping off a tumultuous academic year which saw a series of jarring antisemitic incidents that angered Jewish alumni and prompted important philanthropic supporters to forswear ever giving to the university again.

“We recommend that the university re-issue a clear statement on its opposition to divestment, sanctions, or boycotts against Israel,” the report, released on Thursday, said, delivering a major loss to the anti-Zionist student movement at Penn, which had demanded such a policy during a nearly three-week-long protest in the final weeks of spring semester.

“Our university champions academic freedom and values the open exchange of ideas as vital to our educational mission,” it continued. “We believe in building bridges through dialogue, engagement, and collaboration rather than isolation and division. Penn has important and successful scholarly collaborations with Israeli institutions that touch on many areas of our academic expertise and these should continue to grow unfettered and unabated.”

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This section of the report added that the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement is “discriminatory” and “anti-intellectual” and called on the university to reiterate opposition to it “immediately.”

Other recommendations denied Jewish civil rights advocates a less clear-cut policy victory.

The task force, for example, declined to recommend that Penn adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which is widely accepted across the world and describes the ways in which anti-Zionism, both subtly and overtly, employs antisemitic tropes to foster hatred of Jews and deny their right to self-determination.

Describing the IHRA definition as “controversial,” the report explained that other definitions of antisemitism, such as the “Jerusalem Definition” and the “Nexus Document,” are in tension with IHRA’s, preventing them from reaching a consensus about which is best.

“Our deliberations led us to appreciate that scholars, teachers, and policy makers remain divided not only about the accuracy and utility of any single definition of antisemitism, but about whether it is necessary and/or possible to settle on a single, shared definition,” the report continued.

“Rather than embrace a controversial definition and appreciating that doing so might inhibit rather than advance our commitment to combating it, the Task Force agrees that antisemitism can be defined as ‘the expression of manifestation of hatred, violence, hostility, or discrimination against Jews because they are Jews.”

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The report added, “We have come to that conclusion after studying influential definitions of antisemitism and recognizing how they differ, particularly on the emphasis they place on examples involving the State of Israel.”

The task force also addressed the chanting of slogans — such as “globalize the intifada” — widely deemed as calling for a genocide of Jews. While maintaining that Penn should not “prescribe a catalogue of forbidden words and phrases” it stressed that “it is hateful to target Jews or Zionists, individually or as a group.”

Antisemitism at the University of Pennsylvania, often fueled by anti-Zionism, exploded at the university long before Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7.

In September, it hosted “The Palestine Writes Literature Festival,” which included speakers such as Palestinian researcher Salman Abu Sitta, who has been accused of promoting antisemitic tropes and once said in an interview, “Jews were hated in Europe because they played a role in the destruction of the economy in some of the countries, so they would hate them.”

Another controversial figure invited to the event was former Pink Floyd vocalist Roger Waters, whose long record of anti-Jewish snipes was the subject of a documentary released last year.

One day before the event took place, an unidentified male walked into the university’s Hillel building behind a staffer and shouted “F—k the Jews” and “Jesus Christ is king!” before overturning tables, podium stands, and chairs, according to students and school officials who spoke with The Algemeiner.

Days earlier, just before the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah, a swastika was graffitied in the basement of the university’s Stuart Weitzman School of Design.

Former Penn president Elizabeth Magill, who refused to stop the university from hosting the festival, resigned from her post in December, ending a 17-month tenure marked by controversy over what critics described as an insufficient response to surging antisemitism on campus.

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