US federal judge delivers blow to anti-Israel faculty group at University of Pennsylvania

FJP dismissed concerns about rising antisemitism at Penn, describing efforts to eradicate it as a conspiracy by ‘billionaire donors, pro-Israel groups, other litigants, and segments of the media.’

By Dion J. Pierre, The Algemeiner

A US federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging a congressional investigation of antisemitism at the University of Pennsylvania, delivering a blow to an anti-Zionist faculty group which hoped to prevent important documents from being shared with lawmakers while the matter was litigated.

Since last year, the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce has been investigating the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) to determine whether it intentionally ignored dozens of antisemitic incidents perpetrated by students and faculty.

As part of its inquiry, the committee, led by US Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), subpoenaed the university for a trove of documents, including reports and correspondence, which would provide a window into how administrators discussed antisemitism on campus.

Accusing Congress of engaging in a “new form of McCarthyism” — a historical reference to the excessive efforts of lawmakers to purge Communist Party members from important public institutions in the 1950s — and violating constitutional protections of speech and privacy, a group calling itself Faculty for Justice in Palestine (FJP) asked the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to grant a preliminary and permanent injunction to end the university’s cooperation with the investigation.

“I conclude Plaintiffs lack standing to bring this challenge,” Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg said in a ruling issued on Monday.

“They have not alleged what information Penn will disclose or how it will harm them … Plaintiffs have not alleged facts sufficient to give them a personal stake in the outcome of this litigation, and their complaint will be dismissed for lack of standing. Where a plaintiff lacks standing, a federal court has no authority to enter an injunction.”

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According to court documents first shared by The Daily Pennsylvanian, the principal plaintiff of the suit, associate professor Huda Fakhreddine, engaged in actions that played an outsized role in prompting Congress to investigate Penn.

Last fall, Fakhreddine organized the Palestine Writes Literature Festival, which invited to campus several anti-Zionists who have spread blood libels as well as conspiracies of Jewish control.

He has also praised Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel as a “new way of life.”

In the complaint, FJP dismissed concerns about rising antisemitism at Penn, describing efforts to eradicate it as a conspiracy by “billionaire donors, pro-Israel groups, other litigants, and segments of the media” to squelch criticism of Israel and harm Arab students and academics.

It also castigated the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, calling it a tool of a “militant minority which believes that Israel can do no wrong.”

The group also alleged that the IHRA definition is “unconstitutional” and part of a larger plan of a “social engineering movement” to abolish the First Amendment.

“I wasn’t surprised by the ruling,” City University of New York history professor KC Johnson told The Algemeiner on Monday, responding to the news.

“The professors’ core complaint focused more on a policy dispute with Penn than the law. They wanted Penn to resist the House subpoena, despite the university having no real grounds for doing so, and seemed aggrieved that Penn leaders were unwilling to denounce the House committee as a latter-day version of McCarthyism or to deny that any of the professors’ actions or rhetoric could be deemed antisemitic.”

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Johnson added, “Those sorts of issues might be relevant at a faculty Senate meeting, but it was hard to see how the professors could show any concrete harm that would give them standing in court.”

If FJP’s lawsuit had been successful in halting Congress’s investigation into Penn, it would have concealed from lawmakers — and thereby the public — demonstrative evidence that Fakhreddine and other officials involved in organizing the “Palestine Writes” festival intentionally invited speakers to campus who have been widely accused of antisemitism.

Speakers listed on the event’s initial itinerary included University of Gaza professor Refaat Alareer, who said in 2018, “Are most Jews evil? Of course they are,” and Salman Abu Sitta, who once said in an interview that “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.”

The event touched off a burst of antisemitic incidents at Penn. In the days leading up to it, swastikas were graffitied on campus and a student infiltrated the campus Hillel building, where he proceeded to vandalize the place while screaming antisemitic epithets.

Roger Waters, the former Pink Floyd frontman, was a scheduled speaker. Last year, an explosive documentary showed fellow musicians detailing Waters’ long record of anti-Jewish barbs.

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In one instance, a former colleague recalled Waters at a restaurant yelling at the wait staff to “take away the Jew food.”

By the time former Penn president Elizabeth M. Magill — who resigned in December — appeared before the House Education and Workforce Committee on Dec. 5 to testify about her handling of “Palestine Writes” — which included her refusing to cancel it — anti-Zionist protests at the university amid the Israel-Hamas war had descended into demagoguery and intimidation of Jewish students, as activists berated pro-Israel counter-protesters for condemning Hamas’ Oct. 7 onslaught.

The University of Pennsylvania’s response to rising antisemitism after the events of this academic year has been mixed.

At the end of May, its Task Force on Antisemitism issued a report denouncing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel — which aims to isolate the Jewish state as the first step toward destroying it — as “discriminatory” and “anti-intellectual,” but it opposed adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

Describing the widely accepted IHRA definition as “controversial,” the report’s authors 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.