The Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (PCA) issued a cease-and-desist letter to the Palestine Writes Literature Festival on Thursday demanding that the PCA’s logo be removed from the festival’s writes, claiming that the festival is falsely listing them as a “supporter” of the event.
The letter, authored by PCA Counsel Amber J. Sizemore, alleges that “the PCA has repeatedly attempted to address this matter amicably and cooperatively, but the Palestine Writes Literature Festival organization has failed to take necessary action to resolve this matter … In fact, Palestine Writes abruptly reversed course and failed to follow through on its own offer to remove the logo entirely from the website,” Sizemore wrote. “Instead, the sponsor web page was merely manipulated to list the PCA as a sponsor for ‘Palestine Writes Press,’ which the PCA expressly stated by email was not sufficient to resolve its concerns.”
Sizemore emphasized that the Thursday letter was “the third and final warning” to stop displaying the PCA logo on the festival’s website, “including the festival ‘Sponsor’ and ‘Supporter’ page.” PCA is “not a sponsor or supporter of the festival,” Sizemore wrote. “As you are aware, PCA awarded limited grant funding to Playgrounds for Palestine. That grant award was limited to a literary anthology project and a series of workshops, seminars, readings, and other events to launch the anthology and provide publishing education to authors. While PCA understands that Palestine Writes is a parent initiative to Playgrounds for Palestine, PCA has provided no funding, or other sponsorship or support, to the parent initiative or to the festival. PCA has also not otherwise authorized any use of its logo, or any other references to the PCA as a sponsor or supporter, related to the festival. Therefore, such logo use and references to the PCA create a misleading impression regarding the PCA’s role with that event.” This would be a violation, the letter continued, of “Pennsylvania consumer protection laws,” and that the festival’s use of the logo violates state and federal laws regarding trademark infringement.
Sizemore also argued that the PCA grant money to Playgrounds for Palestine expired at the end of August and that the festival is outside of the scope of the grant.
She concluded the letter by demanding that the festival reply to her by Friday morning confirming that the logo has been scrubbed from the festival’s website and any festival-related material. Otherwise, the PCA could take “immediate legal action” and refer the matter to the state Attorney General, Sizemore warned.
Third request from the Council of Arts to the organizers of the ‘Palestine Writes’ festival. pic.twitter.com/QPgro70RBK
— StopAntisemitism (@StopAntisemites) September 22, 2023
As of 2:30 p.m. Friday, the PCA logo still seems to appear under the “Palestine Writes Press” section on the “Supporters” page of the festival website.
The festival and the PCA did not respond to the Journal’s requests for comment by publication time.
Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt posted a link to the cease-and-desist letter on X, formerly known as Twitter, writing: “Thanks to [Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro] for your swift action and courageous leadership in standing up against hate.”
Yesterday the State of PA issued a Cease & Desist Letter to the organizers of the #PalestineWrites festival for their unauthorized use of a state logo, falsely claiming sponsorship. No surprise. Thanks to @GovernorShapiro for your swift action and courageous leadership in…
— Jonathan Greenblatt (@JGreenblattADL) September 22, 2023
Stop Antisemitism Executive Director Liora Rez said in a statement to the Journal, “We greatly appreciate Governor Shapiro’s office in their unwavering commitment to ensuring that the State of Pennsylvania plays absolutely no role in this reprehensible hate fest. We hold serious reservations that by permitting the perpetuation of this troubling event, President [Elizabeth] Magill is effectively fostering an environment in which antisemitism at Penn will not merely endure but flourish.”
The festival is taking place at the University of Pennsylvania’s campus this weekend, September 22 to 24. The festival has been controversial; many of the speakers criticized as being antisemitic, including former Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters and academic Marc Lamont-Hill. The university issued a statement on September 12 acknowledging the “deep concerns about several speakers who have a documented and troubling history of engaging in antisemitism by speaking and acting in ways that denigrate Jewish people” and that the university denounces “antisemitism as antithetical to our institutional values.” But the university also supports “the free exchange of ideas as central to our educational mission. This includes the expression of views that are controversial and even those that are incompatible with our institutional values.” Susan Abulhawa, the executive director of the festival, told the Journal on September 15 that none of the festival’s speakers are antisemitic and that “the weaponization of antisemitism to silence or marginalize us has been an effective tool by those who have taken everything from us, shattered our families and country, killed and maimed and traumatized and terrorized us, and carved out our hearts. It is galling that they harass us even here as we try to have a moment of togetherness and agency, putting forth a mind blowing narrative that we are victimizing our colonizers.”