Penn President Will Not Act To Remove Anti-Semitic Cartoonist From Faculty, Citing ‘Bedrock Commitment to Open Expression’

Interim president Larry Jameson said he finds Annenberg lecturer Dwayne Booth’s cartoons 'reprehensible' but won’t take action

February 5, 2024

University of Pennsylvania’s interim president, Larry Jameson, responded on Sunday to a slew of grotesque anti-Semitic cartoons published by a lecturer at Penn’s Annenberg School of Communications, saying that while he personally finds the images "reprehensible," the school has a "bedrock commitment to open expression." Without saying so explicitly, Jameson made clear neither he nor administrators at the school would take action to sanction or remove cartoonist Dwayne Booth from the faculty.

Jameson's statement came roughly three days after a Washington Free Beacon report unearthed the cartoons, which depict Zoinists sipping Gazan blood from wine glasses—a version of the ancient blood libel employed in anti-Semitic propaganda—as well as Jews in a Nazi concentration camp holding signs that read "Stop The Holocaust In Gaza," and "Gaza, The World's Biggest Concentration Camp."

"At Penn, we have a bedrock commitment to open expression and academic freedom, principles that were unanimously reaffirmed last week by our Faculty Senate Executive Committee," Jameson said. "We also have a responsibility to challenge what we find offensive, and to do so acknowledging the right and ability of members of our community to express their views, however loathsome we find them."

Jameson's tepid response—his statement, in contrast to other administrative diatribes aimed at conservative and right-wing faculty members, did not mention Booth by name—raises questions about whether the school has implemented meaningful changes in the wake of former president Liz Magill’s dismissal in December and the establishment of a task force on anti-Semitism.

Magill resigned in December after her disastrous testimony at a congressional hearing on campus anti-Semitism, during which she told lawmakers that calling for the genocide of Jews may not constitute harassment. "It is a context-dependent decision," Magill said. One month earlier, in November, Penn formed a University Task Force on Anti-Semitism, with Magill lamenting the "pernicious acts of anti-Semitism" seen on campus.

That task force has since failed to weigh in on high-profile incidents of campus anti-Semitism at Penn. Its chairman, dentistry professor Mark Wolff, did not return a request for comment on Booth's cartoons.

While Penn has indicated it won’t act to remove Booth, the school has spent years attempting to strip tenure from law professor Amy Wax over controversial remarks that law school dean Theodore Ruger called "racist."

Those remarks, Ruger said during a 2019 town hall, caused "harm" and could be grounds for dismissal.

For Dov Hoch, former president of the Penn Club of Israel, Jameson's response to Booth's cartoons shows little has changed at Penn following Magill's resignation.

"His leadership is inconsequential if it continues to allow overt racists and/or anti-Semites to work for or associate with the university," Hoch said of Jameson. "Liz Magill left and Penn changed the lifeguard overseeing a cesspool. Jameson needs to get rid of the scum."

Booth, who did not return a request for comment, joined Penn as an adjunct faculty member in 2015 and teaches two classes at the Ivy League institution: "Sick and Satired: The Insanity of Humor and How it Keeps Us Sane" and "WARNING! Graphic Content: Political Cartoons, Comix, and the Uncensored Artist." He also publishes political cartoons under the pen name "Mr. Fish." Since Hamas's Oct. 7 attack on Israel, most of those cartoons have disparaged the Jewish state.

Booth has since deleted the concentration camp cartoon from his Instagram but has otherwise responded defiantly to Jameson's statement.

On Monday morning, he published a cartoon to his website—titled "QUIET!"—that depicts Uncle Sam holding his hand over a man's mouth alongside the caption, "Critical Thinking Is Bad For America."

Booth also provided a statement to NBC's Philadelphia affiliate condemning what he called "a lazy conflation that makes the state of Israel and the politics that guide its actions as a nation inseparable from Judaism itself."

"Political artists have always had to grapple with the possibility that a misreading of their work, willing or otherwise, could disrupt the intention and usability of their commentary, thereby complicating the trajectory of whatever debate might follow," Booth said. In some cases, however, his cartoons targeted Jews as a whole. In one Booth drew a Nazi flag with a Star of David pictured in place of a swastika.

Penn's Annenberg School for Communication did not return a request for comment about whether it requested the removal of the concentration camp cartoon from Booth’s Instagram profile.

Booth's next class is scheduled to take place Thursday, according to an online university schedule.