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UPenn Alum Lizzy Savetsky: “I Feel Sick that the University Would Tolerate This Many Hateful, Outrageous Voices”

Digital influencer Lizzy Savetsky is speaking out about the festival and urging her alma mater to condemn it.
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September 21, 2023
Lizzy Savetsky (UPenn photo by f11photo/Getty Images)

This weekend, on the eve of Yom Kippur, the University of Pennsylvania is hosting the “Palestine Writes” festival, which features a number of anti-Israel speakers. The lineup includes Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, who demonizes Israel during his concerts and wears a Nazi uniform on stage; CUNY Professor and ex-CNN anchor Marc Lamont Hill, who said we need to free Palestine from “the river to the sea,” implying the destruction of Israel; and Australian author Randa Abdel-Fattah, who said that Israel is a “demonic, sick project.”

Now, digital influencer and pro-Israel activist – as well as UPenn alum – Lizzy Savetsky is speaking out about the festival and urging her alma mater to condemn it.

“The idea of a literature festival that celebrates the Palestinian culture is great,” Savetsky wrote in an op-ed for the Algemeiner. “That’s not what the ‘Palestine Writes’ festival is, though. It’s a weapon against Israel, and that’s by design, according to Palestinian-American writer and activist Susan Abulhawa, the festival’s executive director, who said, ‘We will go home someday. No matter how long it takes or what it takes.’”

Savetsky, a member of the New York City Mayor’s Jewish Advisory Council, visited the Chabad at UPenn this week to talk with students and show her support of the Jewish community on campus.

“I feel sick that UPenn would tolerate this many hateful, outrageous voices, who have encouraged antisemitism and even incitement to violence against one tiny and highly victimized minority group – Jews,” she told the Journal. “After visiting campus and meeting with students and faculty in the Jewish community at UPenn, I felt an overwhelming sense of fear—fear to speak out and fear to be visibly Jewish. This is absolutely heartbreaking. No student should feel unsafe or targeted.”

While Savetsky was a student at UPenn, a classmate shared her project about a trip to “Palestine,” in reference to Israel proper, which she found alarming.

“But noticed nobody else seemed to,” she said. “It was then I became aware of hostility towards Israel rising on campus. As unsettling as that realization was, it was nothing like the vulnerability and outright stigmatization of Jewish and Israeli students we are seeing on campus today. This is even more true for those who are most visibly identifiable, as Jews, like those who wear religious clothing or Hebrew letters.”

Amid the uproar over the festival, UPenn President Liz Magill and her administration sent out a statement that the event was not organized by UPenn, and instead sponsored by four departments at the university. This week, a truck traveling around the campus and through Philadelphia showed Magill’s photo and urged people to “Tell President Magill racists are not welcome at UPenn!”

Savetsky sees the Palestinian Writes festival as part of a bigger problem, where campuses are becoming unsafe for Jewish and pro-Israel students.

“At a time when most Jewish and Israeli college students now experience unprecedented antisemitism and hostility, UPenn – and other campuses around the country – must do more to teach values of tolerance and inclusion and protect our vulnerable students. Antisemitism training should be mandatory for university staff and there must be measures taken to ensure Jewish inclusion.”

Savetsky also noted that administrators need to remember how Zionism is an integral part of most Jewish students’ identity.

“You cannot separate Judaism from Zionism,” she said. “And university policies must reflect that.”

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