The National Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Conference taking place on the University of Pennsylvania campus Friday through Sunday has brought a strong response from the campus, alumni and local communities.
The sponsoring PennBDS student group calls the conference a gathering of academics, activists, students and community leaders who support their goals of using economic means to force Israel to correct what they believe are violations of international and human rights law.
In a commentary published in "The Daily Pennsylvanian” newspaper on Thursday, Penn President Amy Gutmann and Trustees Chair David L. Cohen* wrote ” the University has repeatedly, consistently and forcefully expressed our adamant opposition to this agenda. Simply stated, we fundamentally disagree with the position taken by Penn BDS.” The commentary was titled: “Protecting speech we may not like.”
Gutmann also said PennBDS is a registered student group that has every right to its viewpoint, despite her strong objections.
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The BDS Conference is planned as two days of panel discussions, debates and workshops designed to empower activists who believe in the cause of “Palestinian freedom and equality.” An opening press conference and film screening are planned at the American Friends Service Committee Meeting House.
Keynote speakers include Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian American journalist and award-winning novelist Susan Abulhawa whose best-selling novel “Mornings in Jenin” is being adapted as a film.
As for PennBDS, its stated objective is support for a campaign to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel, including a move to target Israeli products and financial services on campus. A statement on the group’s website says “We categorically oppose all forms of bigotry and racial, ethnic and religious discrimination, including anti-Arab, anti-Semitic, and Islamophobic racism and hate.”
Penn President Gutmann stressed the weekend BDS conference “is not a University sponsored or promoted event.”
“Amid the passion that many feel around this weekend’s events, we urge you to focus on the one thing we cannot afford to lose: the great tradition and enduring gift of Penn’s founders — the chance to speak our minds freely,” Gutmann and Cohen wrote in “The Daily Pennsylvanian.”
*David L. Cohen is Executive Vice President of Comcast Corporation, the parent company of NBC10 Philadelphia.