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Penn distances itself from BDS conference

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NEW YORK (JTA) — The University of Pennsylvania distanced itself from a BDS conference scheduled for February on its Philadelphia campus.

In a statement released last month, Penn President Amy Gutmann emphasized that the school is not sponsoring the 2012 National Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions conference, nor does it support its aims.

"The University of Pennsylvania has clearly stated on numerous occasions that it does not support sanctions or boycotts against Israel," Gutmann said. "Indeed, Penn has important and successful scholarly collaborations with Israeli institutions that touch on many areas of our academic enterprise."

The conference, slated for Feb. 3-5, aims to marshall support for coercive economic measures in an effort, according to its website, to "bring an end to Israel’s system of oppression, segregation and dispossession." Several Jewish groups, including the campus organization Hillel, have condemned the conference.

Hillel applauded the university for its statement and opposed its decision to permit the conference to be held on Penn grounds.

"Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life resolutely condemns calls and campaigns for boycotts, divestment or sanctions against Israel and believes they have no place on campus because they are blatantly anti-Israel and amount to acts of political and economic warfare," said Wayne Firestone, Hillel’s president and CEO. "The BDS movement is antithetical to principles of academic freedom and discourages freedom of speech."

Conference organizers appeared intent on fending off such claims, inviting several Jewish participants and representatives of Jewish organizations to appear as speakers and panelists. They also specifically invited members of the pro-Israel community and opponents of BDS to attend, noting that the entry fee would be used only to cover conference expenses and not to promote BDS.

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