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Antisemitic Faculty Threatens Congressional Probe at University of Pennsylvania

The fate of the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce’s investigation into antisemitism at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) could be decided in federal court, as members of the school’s Faculty for Justice in Palestine (FJP) chapter have sued its administrators in an attempt to stop them from sharing key documents requested by lawmakers.

Accusing Congress of engaging in a “new form of McCarthyism” — a historical reference to the excessive efforts of lawmakers to purge Communist Party members from important public institutions in the 1950s — and violating constitutional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, Penn faculty members are asking a US District Court to grant a preliminary and permanent injunction to end the university’s cooperation with the investigation.

According to court documents first shared by The Daily Pennsylvanian, the principal plaintiff in 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.

The event also 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.

The House Education and Workforce Committee “first sent a letter to Penn demanding the production of many categories of information, including private [Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act]-protected student files and documents pertaining to an annual scholarly event produced by plaintiff focusing on Palestinian literature,” the complaint says. “Penn would have been within its rights to protect its community by refusing compliance. Instead, Penn, its trustees off balance and frightened by the accusations of anti-Semitism [sic], announced it would comply with the committee’s letter, and, on information and belief, has begun producing documents.”

The lawsuit dismisses 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 castigates 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 IHRA definition and its use by the House Education and Workforce Committee in its investigation into antisemitism at Penn, the lawsuit continues, is “unconstitutional” and part of a larger plan of a “‘social engineering movement to repeal the First Amendment.”

If successful in disrupting Congress’s investigation into Penn, the lawsuit could conceal from lawmakers, and thereby the public, evidence indicating that Fakhreddine — who has praised Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel as a “new way of life” — and other Penn officials involved in organizing “Palestine Writes” intentionally invited antisemitic speakers to campus.

Held in September, the “Palestine Writes Literature Festival” outraged Jewish community members, as well as non-Jewish leaders and lawmakers, for its inclusion of anti-Zionists who have weaponized classic antisemitic tropes to undermine support for Israel. 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.”

Roger Waters, the former Pink Floyd frontman, was also a scheduled speaker. Last year, a documentary revealed fellow musicians detailing Waters’ long record of anti-Jewish barbs. 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 the event — which included 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.

At one point, during a gathering of the protesters in front of the Van Pelt Dietrich Library, a high school senior — referred to as “MJ,” who attends the Specialized Science Academy in Philadelphia — was invited to speak. He accused Israel of genocide and harassed others in the area, according to students who witnessed his remarks.

“The Israeli Jew has bastardized Judaism! Bastardized it! Trampled on it! How could you let this genocidal regime crap all over your God and your religion like this?” the speaker bellowed, as seen in footage posted by the anti-Zionist student group Penn Against the Occupation (POA) and reviewed by The Algemeiner. “How can you, as a people who have seen the same amount of oppression in the past, stand by the same genocidal tactics, and lies, and methods that they use on our people? How could you stand for that? Look at you — you’re not even looking at this direction. You’re scared. You’re scared of being wrong.”

In announcing its investigation into Penn and two other elite schools two months later, Education and Workforce Committee member Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) said, “We will use our full congressional authority to hold these schools accountable for their failure on the global stage.”