New roles

JFNA’s Julie Platt tapped as interim chair of UPenn board as Bok steps down over antisemitism row

Platt laments failure of the university to address antisemitism, stresses that this role is secondary to her JFNA position

Julie Platt, the chair of the Jewish Federations of North America, was named the interim chair of the board of trustees of the University of Pennsylvania. Her appointment followed the resignation of the chair, Scott Bok, who stepped down alongside the school’s president, Liz Magill, on Saturday night, the board announced in a statement to the Penn community. 

Platt, who was named vice chair of the board earlier this year, said that she will stay in the role of interim chair only until a successor is found, which she said should be in the next few weeks.

“I made clear that my priority is my role as chair of the Jewish Federations of North America, and, therefore, agreed to do so and lead the process of selecting a new chair by the start of the next semester, which begins in January 2024,” Platt said in a statement released by JFNA.

In its statement, the executive committee of the Penn board said that the nominating committee would begin an “expeditious process” to recommend the next chair to the Executive Committee before the start of the spring semester.

In addition to her role as JFNA chair, Platt is also the president of the Julie Beren Platt and Marc E. Platt Foundation and serves on Penn Hillel’s National Board of Governors, among other positions.

Bok’s and Magill’s resignations followed months of criticism over the administration’s response to antisemitism on campus, beginning before the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas in southern Israel.

In the immediate wake of the Hamas attacks and early rise in antisemitism on campus, Platt stood by Magill and Bok, saying she had “full confidence” in their leadership.

In a statement accepting the position of interim chair on Saturday night, Platt lamented that the board had failed to sufficiently address antisemitism on campus and criticized Magill’s appearance before Congress.

“Unfortunately, we have not made all the progress that we should have and intend to accomplish. In my view, given the opportunity to choose between right and wrong, the three university presidents testifying in the United States House of Representatives failed,” Platt wrote.

“The leadership change at the university was therefore necessary and appropriate. I will continue as a board member of the university to use my knowledge and experience of Jewish life in North America and at Penn to accelerate this critical work,” she said.

Platt stressed her connection to JFNA and its role in both raising money for Israel and combating antisemitism in the United States, driving home the significance of her appointment as interim chair of an institution dogged by claims of permitting antisemitism.

“As chair of the Jewish Federations of North America, we are leading the largest mobilization in our history in support of Israel’s right to protect its citizens and against the rise of antisemitism in North America, including staging the largest Jewish rally in American history on the National Mall. We will continue this fight with all our energy,” Platt said.

The current criticism around the university’s response to antisemitism began around an event that was held at the university — the Palestine Writes Literature Festival — which featured speakers who are widely seen as espousing antisemitic beliefs, including Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters, who regularly compares Israel to Nazi Germany. In addition to allowing the event to take place, Bok and Magill were seen as being insufficiently receptive to even hearing the concerns of the Jewish community.

This escalated significantly following the Oct. 7 attacks and culminated with Magill’s appearance before the House Education and Workforce Committee last week, in which she, along with Harvard’s Claudine Gay and Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sally Kornbluth, equivocated on whether calls for the genocide of Jews violated their schools’ codes of conduct.

More so than the other two, Magill faced sharp criticism for her remarks from both major donors and elected officials.

Ross Stevens, the founder and CEO of Stone Ridge Asset Management, pulled a $100 million donation to the University of Pennsylvania yesterday, citing the school’s “permissive approach to hate speech” and discrimination against Jewish students, which he said could only be returned “if, and when, there is a new university president in place.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro and the leaders of Penn Hillel have also criticized Magill’s conduct during the House committee.