Penn Administrators, Professors Rally Around Anti-Semitic Cartoonist

Faculty union threatens to investigate Ivy League school if Dwayne Booth is punished

(; Dwayne Booth cartoon)
February 15, 2024

University of Pennsylvania administrators and faculty members are rallying around Annenberg School of Communications lecturer Dwayne Booth, arguing that he should not be disciplined for publishing anti-Semitic cartoons depicting Zionists sipping Gazan blood from wine glasses and Holocaust victims protesting the Jewish state.

The school's faculty union published a letter on Wednesday sent to the university denouncing the "targeted harassment of Annenberg faculty member Dwayne Booth." Criticism of the lecturer's cartoons, the union's executive committee wrote, "imperils the academic freedom of every faculty member at Penn" and "adds fuel to the fire started by those who are actively campaigning to damage our university's reputation."

Booth has also received support from Annenberg administrators and professors. The school's former dean and current public policy center director, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, suggested in a Thursday statement that Booth should not be disciplined given Penn's "bedrock commitment to the values of academic freedom and open expression." Annenberg professor Victor Pickard, meanwhile, said the "targeted harassment of Dwayne Booth should be seen as an attack on academic freedom, and we should all rise to defend such inviolable principles."

The outpouring of support comes in the wake of a Feb. 1 Washington Free Beacon report highlighting Booth's cartoons, which the Penn lecturer published under the pen name, "Mr. Fish."

One depicts Zionists sipping Gazan blood from wine glasses—a version of the ancient blood libel employed in anti-Semitic propaganda—while another shows Jews in a Nazi concentration camp holding signs that read "Stop The Holocaust In Gaza," and "Gaza, The World's Biggest Concentration Camp." A third shows an Israeli holding a gun to a hospitalized baby's head, while a fourth depicts a Nazi flag with a Star of David drawn in place of a swastika.

Penn's interim president, Larry Jameson, responded in a statement that describing the images "reprehensible." But Jameson's statement did not mention Booth by name and touted Penn's commitment to "open expression and academic freedom."

The letter from Penn's chapter of the American Association of University Professors slams Jameson, charing that he "has endangered academic freedom by publicly condemning Booth's political cartoons as ‘reprehensible’ and suggesting that he should not have published them."

The union is led by history professor Amy Offner and English professor Emily Steinlight.

Not all Penn faculty members, however, are standing behind Booth. Last week, professor of modern Jewish history Joshua Teplitsky argued that Booth's "provocations" did "more to polarize than … to foster discussion and debate."

"Scholars strive to understand hateful words, images, and actions and their power in the past and present," Teplitsky said in a statement. "But we don't create materials of our own that amplify messages of hate."

Penn, Annenberg, and Booth did not respond to requests for comment.

The Penn faculty union condemned the Free Beacon for "publishing the date of Booth's next class," a move the union said "endangered the physical safety of both Booth and his students." Penn itself publishes an online class schedule, which is accessible to the general public, though it has now removed Booth's email as well as details regarding the lecturer's class from its website.

"The targeted harassment of Booth was instigated by the Washington Free Beacon, a publication known for political provocation whose activities conform to a well-known pattern," the organization wrote. "It singled out a faculty member who had criticized the war in Gaza and portrayed him as an antisemite, which predictably generated threats of personal violence against him and calls for the university to discipline him."

Booth has defended his cartoons. In an interview with the Daily Pennsylvanian, he argued that those who view the images "by themselves" are missing "necessary context," given that he created the cartoons to accompany columns by former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges. The Free Beacon's report on Booth's cartoons reference Hedges's columns, which routinely accuse Israel of "genocide" and compare Israel to Nazi Germany.

"The Nazis shipped their victims to death camps. The Israelis will ship their victims to squalid refugee camps in countries outside of Israel," Hedges wrote in one column that includes a Booth cartoon as its feature image. "And if we do not stand in eternal vigilance over evil—our evil—we become, like those carrying out the mass killing in Gaza, monsters."

Booth has also addressed the controversy through new cartoons posted to his Instagram. In one, he proposes replacing the Star of David in Israel's flag with the Kool-Aid Man. In another, he appears to liken the the Free Beacon to the New York Times, writing that the "right and left" have reached a "consensus" that the "world would be saved if everybody on the other side of the political spectrum would just f—ing die already."