After provoking widespread outrage for posing for a photograph with an undergraduate dressed up as a suicide bomber, the president of a major American university now faces a slew of new questions after her account of the incident was contradicted by the student involved, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
As the Post reported on Sunday morning, University of Pennsylvania president Dr. Amy Gutmann was photographed last week standing alongside Syrian-born engineering student Saad Saadi at the annual Halloween costume party held at the president's home.
In the photo, a copy of which was obtained by the Post, Saadi is seen with a keffiyeh around his head, a toy Kalashnikov rifle in hand and six plastic sticks of dynamite strapped to his chest. A smiling Gutmann stood next to him, dressed as Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, a character from L. Frank Baum's novel The Wizard of Oz.
In a statement released by her office on Friday, Gutmann sought to distance herself from the incident by portraying it as an innocent mistake on her part. She asserted that some 700 students attend her annual Halloween costume party, and "they all crowd around to have their picture taken with me in costume."
"This year," Gutmann said, "one student who had a toy gun in hand had his picture taken with me before it was obvious to me that he was dressed as a suicide bomber."
But the Post found that in an interview on Friday with the campus newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, Saadi offered an account that varied sharply from the one provided by Gutmann.
According to the paper, Saadi said that Gutmann "did not seem to take his costume too seriously." He added that when he approached her for the photo, Gutmann joked with him about it, telling him, "How did they let you through security?", implying that the president did in fact realize what Saadi's costume signified before being photographed with him.
Saadi later apologized for his choice of costume, and removed the photographs from his personal website. In her statement, Gutmann noted that, "The costume is clearly offensive and I was offended by it," but she refused to apologize over the affair.
The incident at Gutmann's party, which was first revealed by Winfield Myers of the DemocracyProject.org website, has sparked indignation both on and off the university campus.
Hillel's student executive committee issued a statement saying, "While some may dismiss these actions as straightforward Halloween amusement, many perceive this student to have displayed a disturbing disregard for the sensitivities of others. We join with the student leaders of other Penn constituencies in expressing offense at the regrettable incident."
Shira Goldberg, a pro-Israel student activist at the university contacted by the Post said via email, "I am personally offended and deeply hurt by the lack of sensitivity that occurred on our campus this past week. Many students, both Jews and non-Jews, are upset and concerned that such an event would occur at The University of Pennsylvania."
The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) also weighed in on the issue, releasing a statement that was strongly critical of Gutmann.
In a letter addressed to the university president, the ZOA wrote, "we are frankly shocked and appalled by your gross error of judgment. How is it possible that you tolerated the presence at your party of someone dressed as a suicide bomber and lend credibility to this symbol of the radical Islamic terror war against the West by happily posing with him?
"Would you have done the same if he had come dressed as the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan?", the letter said.