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Accuracy in Media Deploys Billboards Against Teacher, Administrator for Anti-Jewish Hate Speech

An advocacy group, Accuracy in Media [AIM], is highlighting a Philadelphia School District administrator and a Central Bucks School District teacher for their alleged antisemitism.

On Tuesday in Philadelphia, AIM had a mobile billboard placed at the school administration offices on North Broad Street with a picture of Ismael Jimenez, the social studies curriculum director.

In April, Jimenez posted on Instagram that educators should focus on advancing their political agenda rather than complying with state and local laws and regulations. Jimenez has also previously posted on Facebook defending Hamas and calling Israel a “terrorist state,” according to AIM.

In addition, the federal Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating the Philadelphia school district over reports of antisemitism in schools. The investigation opened on April 9. Incidents include a teacher crossing out Israel on a map, a swastika being drawn on a school door, and students using a computer game that asked, “Who do we hate?” The answers? Pork and Israel.”

AIM is also targeting Central Bucks School District Spanish teacher Youssef Abdelwahab with a mobile billboard on Wednesday.  Abdelwahab shared antisemitic content on his social media account that’s related to his clothing business, with posts like “Zionism = Nazism.”

“On Oct. 10, 2023, only three days after the Oct. 7 terrorist attack in Israel, Abdelwahab posted content defending Hamas, stating, ‘resistance is justified when people are occupied,’” AIM noted.

According to parents, Abdelwahab, the advisor for the Muslim Student Association at Central Bucks High School West, has been sharing his social media accounts with students.

The Central Bucks School District is also under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education for antisemitism.

Abdelwahab runs an Instagram for his online business, where he’s made several antisemitic posts:

On October 10, just days after the Hamas massacre in Israel, Abdelwahab posted: “When people are occupied, resistance is justified! No Justice, No peace! Free Palestine!” The post advertised a headscarf called the “The Intifada Shiesty A-rag.”

On October 24, Abdelwahab claimed that “Israel and its Western supporters” were committing “genocide and ethnic cleansing.”

On November 22, Abdelwahab posted that he would be boycotting companies that “support Zionism, racism and genocide.”

On February 14, Abdelwahab posted that “Zionism = Nazism” and “Zionism = Antisemitic”

AIM suggests that school choice would curb the problem of antisemitic educators.

The billboards are part of AIM’s  Antisemitism Accountability Project.  AIM has placed billboards around the country, including at Harvard, Columbia and other universities where there have been antisemitic incidents “to shame the people responsible.”

AIM President Adam Gillette told DVJournal that the organization has had a lot of favorable results since it’s been publicizing hate since 2022. Since the Oct. 7 terror attack, they’ve gone to various university campuses, but now they are expanding their outreach to K-12 schools.

AIM also helped get former Penn President Liz Magill to step down.  Magill and other university presidents testified before Congress, with Magill saying that calls for the genocide of Jews is allowed at Penn “in context.”   And they also aided in getting Claudine Gay to step down from the presidency of Harvard. Gillette said they sent two moving vans to her house to help her move, but she didn’t avail herself of them.

He said that school choice is the best way to stop antisemitism and other forms of hatred being taught in the schools.

“No student should be geographically assigned to a school with antisemitic educators. The only solution is school choice,” he said. The money for education should “follow the child.” Different families have different values, different priorities, different religions, he added.

Gillette cited Diversity, Equity and Inclusion [DEI] programs as the genesis of the recent rise of antisemitism in the schools.  In addition to appearing at the office and school where Jimenez and Abdelwahab work, the billboards will show up at their homes.

“It’s incredibly important for people to know who the antisemites are,” said Gillette.

Christina Clark, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia School District, sent this response: “The School District of Philadelphia strives to create welcoming and inclusive environments that allow our students to feel safe and learn. Acts of discrimination, hate speech, and harassment are unacceptable whether by, or against, students and staff.  The district takes all complaints of bullying, harassment and discrimination seriously, including allegations of Antisemitism and Islamophobia, and will take appropriate action to both investigate allegations and prioritize the well-being of all students and staff.

“In addition to investigating allegations, the district has intentionally begun to roll out learning spaces and forums to provide school communities with additional opportunities to be heard and for collective learning.

The School District of Philadelphia, Baldi Middle School and Northeast High School are diverse communities – a point of pride and celebration. Our young people are watching and listening. We encourage all of us, staff, community members, and stakeholders of all kinds, to be the role models they deserve. If we all work to build bridges of empathy and understanding, and demonstrate respect, our young people will follow and will create a community where everyone feels valued and heard. Given ongoing investigation and personnel considerations, further details are not being provided.”

Central Bucks School District Acting Superintendent Jim Scanlon did not respond when asked to comment on Tuesday.

The billboards display the website, www.StopTeachingHate.com, which allows supporters to send a message directly to Gov. Josh Shapiro and several legislative leaders, calling on them to condemn antisemitism in schools and expand school choice for Pennsylvania families.

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Central Bucks Parents, Students Decry Antisemitism

The war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza continues to roil the Central Bucks School District.

Jewish parents and students concerned about antisemitism spoke at a May 22 committee meeting. Several mentioned Central Bucks High School West Spanish teacher Youssef Abdelwahab and the Muslim Student Association, which are both the subject of a U.S. Department of Education Title VI civil rights investigation.

Abdelwahab reportedly apologized for some of the club’s posts.

After listening to lengthy public comments, the committee leaned toward Board Member Dr. Miriam Mahmud’s suggestion to form a task force to develop a social media policy for the district’s many student clubs.

Adam Wright, a Plumstead resident and a principal who was formerly a history teacher, said a recent student’s social media post of a swastika over a star of David should not be allowed.

“As a statement of fact, someone who is a history teacher, there has never been an independent state of Palestine,” said Wright. “The name Syria Palestina was first coined after the Romans concurred Judea after the Bar Kokhba revolt in 135 CE as a means of disconnecting the indigenous Jewish population from their ancestral homeland. Most historians believe this was done during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian.”

The name “Israel” dates to what was written in ancient Egypt in 1320 B.C.E., he said.

School Board Member James Pepper

“The phrase ‘Free Palestine’ has no meaning,” said Wright. “If our desire is to conduct and maintain productive dialogue among students and community, then we need to ensure that we maintain accuracy in the information and the language that we’re using.”

A former student said that classmates called him a “Christ killer” in the 6th grade.

He had pennies thrown at him on the school bus in middle school and was the victim of a hate crime in high school, he said.

“Something must be done to combat the use of social media for bigotry and hate,” he said.

Inna Pyatetsky said, “The board must include policy language regarding the use of social media. Content of the post must be restricted to the club’s mission.” The board must also put enforcement and consequences in place, she said.

“This board was elected to make sure that kids in marginalized groups felt safe in our schools,” she said. “It is time to acknowledge you have failed to include one ethnic minority in your organizational framework of DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion): the Jewish student. There should have been unequivocal condemnation of antisemitism on its own, affirming that any form of any form of Jew-hatred, including social media posts, will never be tolerated.”

Fania Karlitsky said while some students object to changing the policies governing social media, “I would like to argue that our existing policies as they sit may actually be deemed hateful, as they’re the ones that allowed the MSA club to post over Easter weekend begging their God to deal with ‘the usurping Jews and treacherous Zionists’ with no consequences. Yet efforts to update the policy to prevent such content are being labeled hateful by students.”

“Just a few days ago, there was yet another post made by a student. This time, they intertwined an image of a Jewish star and a swastika and wrote, ‘The irony of becoming what you once hated.’ For those of you who needed an explanation, the implication was Jews are Nazis.”

“I saw today the board is implementing DEI principles in schools as a remedy…I believe the teaching of DEI principles has fueled a significant amount of hatred toward Jews. It’s important to note that existing DEI policies have overlooked the experiences and concerns of Jewish individuals, leaving Jews completely out of its programs.  There have been many instances where DEI initiatives have perpetuated the misconception that all white individuals are privileged and oppressive, leading to resentment and discrimination.”

A high school student said, “The Jewish kids are not OK. Because of the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, Mr. A. posted stories and pictures on his social media that make his classroom no longer a safe space or welcome. When you compare Zionism and Nazis, how can it be a safe space and welcoming?

“I am an Israeli Jewish student who believes Israel has the right to exist. The amount of propaganda spread by both Mr. A. and the MSA club about my homeland and my religion feels like an attack against me personally. Again, this doesn’t create a safe space.”

He thanked board member James Pepper for a statement Pepper read at the May school board meeting. However, two women wearing hijabs called on Pepper to resign.

At the May 4 meeting, Pepper held a small Israeli flag and said, “Mark Twain is reported to have said, ‘History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.’ On April 25, 1933, Nazi Germany passed legislation that limited Jewish enrollment at universities to 1.5 percent of the student body.

“Over the last several weeks, Jewish students in our country were prevented from going to class at universities across this country. They were hounded, and they were threatened because they were Jewish. Can you hear the rhyming?

“Nazi Germany slaughtered over six million Jews during the holocaust. On Oct. 7, a homicidal genocidal death cult slaughtered over 1300 men, women, children and babies and kidnapped 230 men, women, children and babies. Like the Nazis, today’s homicidal genocidal death cult will not stop.

“If given a chance to repeat the atrocities of Oct. 7, this homicidal genocidal death cult will do it again and again and again and again until every Jew is either killed or expelled from Israel. This homicidal, genocidal death cult has said as much, like the Nazis, Hamas will not stop unless it is stopped.”

Pepper added CBSD could have condemned antisemitism and “chose not to.”

“Instead of condemning virulent antisemitism, we got a healthy dose of unrelated Whataboutism,” he said.

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DelVal Jewish Parents Weigh Protests When Deciding College Choices

Which area colleges and universities are less likely to be disrupted by anti-Israel protesters? Some Delaware Valley Jewish parents are considering the possibility of protests when deciding which college would be best for their kids.

Jim Yannopoulos, PsyD, a certified educational planner with Right College for Me in Bryn Mawr, said parents and students concerned about protests should avoid the University of Pennsylvania, Haverford College, and Swarthmore College.

“Jewish students at Haverford and Penn have experienced particularly harsh antisemitism, and there has been disruptive conduct at all three colleges,” said Yannopoulos. “What do these colleges have in common? A critical mass of spoiled, entitled children who have apparently never heard the word ‘no’ from their parents or anyone else and have never suffered consequences for their ignorance and immature actions,” he said. “Even on these campuses, the majority of students are reasonable and just want to get on with their studies and lives. But this vocal minority makes that nearly impossible.”

Yannopoulos added, “While there is some activity on almost every campus, other colleges in the Philadelphia area have basically been able to continue business as usual and feel relatively safe.”

Brett Harris, a Lower Merion father, said his oldest child is a sophomore, but they’ve already discussed this topic.

“We have talked about it, and I think ‘elite’ schools are going to be off the list and we will mostly be looking at southern schools outside of a few in-state schools,” said Harris.

Jamie Cohen Walker, a Chalfont mother, said her daughter Devyn, 17, who is about to graduate from Central Bucks South High School, will be going to a college in Florida.

“I feel safer sending her to a state where I know the governor is very adamant about not letting these pro-Palestinian encampments start,” said Walker. “While there were other reasons, like warmer weather, but her safety became the main concern. Because of all the craziness that governors in these Democratic states are letting happen, I did not want my daughter subjected to it.”

“Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) was not going to stand for it,” said Walker. “I feel like DeSantis is a really good leader when it comes to education, and Florida is leading the way. They got rid of CRT [critical race theory], which, in my opinion, leads to antisemitism. CRT teaches that Israel and Jewish people are the oppressors and that there’s an oppressed and an oppressor.”

Ron DeSantis did something [about the encampments] while our governor waited and waited,” said Walker. “And let Jewish kids be harassed. I don’t want my kids to be exposed to that.”

Rav Shai Cherry, the rabbi at Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park, said, “My Rina, 19, was just accepted by UC Santa Cruz. She got into there, Temple, and Brandeis. She chose the one where there were no protests [UC Santa Cruz]. She’s in Israel, by the way, on a kibbutz for five months.”

“I went over some pros and cons with her,” said Cherry. “I don’t want to cede an inch to antizionists or antisemites. Turns out UCSC has an excellent physics program, and that’s what she’ll study. She’ll be an activist who can knowledgeably respond to antizionist tropes.”

Eyal Yakoby, a Penn senior who has testified before Congress on antisemitism on campus and is suing the university, said, “I am disappointed in the school and hope that they can find their moral compass. There is no gray lines. Violence and harassment have no business being at a university.”

Yannopoulos said, “Nationally, the worst campuses have been Columbia, Harvard, Oberlin, Colgate, Georgetown, and Stanford. These are terrible places for real human beings capable of thinking independently. Columbia was horrible even before Oct. 7.  For a number of other reasons not related to the climate and culture, I do not recommend Columbia to any student.

“The best elite, intellectual academic institution for students who value reasonable exchanges and discussion with true free speech is the University of Chicago,” Yannopoulos said. “Even there, there have been encampments and disruptions, but they have been dealt with in a way that emphasizes every student’s right to obtain the educational opportunities they and their parents paid for.”

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ADL Panel In Radnor Addresses Rise of Antisemitism in Pennsylvania

“On Oct. 8, our interfaith partners showed up,” said Rabbi Peter Rigler of Temple Sholom in Broomall. “They asked how we were. And to be candid, I haven’t heard from most of them since.”

“A lot of the dialogue has become, ‘We love you, but this is hard now. That’s where it is. And I would say the same of a lot of our nonprofit partners in the community, people that we have done work with have said, ‘Now is not a great time for us.’ So, in general, I would say those interfaith relationships have changed dramatically.”

Rigler spoke to about 100 concerned Jews and other residents who came to the first Antidefamation League Main Line Community Action Group (MLCAG) meeting at the Willows in Radnor. The ADL assembled panels of religious leaders, law enforcement, educators and government officials to address the spike in antisemitic incidents in 2023, many occurring in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

Pennsylvania ranked sixth in the U.S. for the most antisemitic episodes last year, including 51 bomb threats. There were 8,873 reports of assault, harassment, and vandalism around the country, the most in four decades. Since Oct. 7, there have been 5,204 antisemitic incidents in the U.S.

(From left) T/E Superintendent Richard Gusick, Radnor Superintendent Kenneth Batchelor and Rabbi Peter Rigler.

“We are at a moment in time where antisemitism has skyrocketed,” said Abbey Krain, ADL senior associate regional director. “How did we get here? And what can we do about it?”

“As of this moment, campuses and our Jewish students and faculty there continue to bear the brunt of antisemitic sentiment,” she said. ADL has put together a report card ranking various universities and colleges.

ADL Philadelphia Regional Director Andrew Goretsky said the idea for MLCAG came after co-chair Lisa Schreiber organized a “No Hate” rally of 300 people when swastikas appeared in Tredyffrin.

Rigler said that even as their partners in the faith community abandoned them, law enforcement has stepped up to fill the void, with extra patrols to ensure that the synagogue is safe for congregants to attend services.

Asked about hate crimes and hate incidents, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said Pennsylvania’s statute covering hate crimes is called “ethnic intimidation” and requires a “predicate crime” like assault, arson, or harassment first before it can be charged. A separate institutional vandalism law protects schools and houses of worship.

Radnor Police Superintendent Chris Flanagan said bomb threats, which are often made through disguised IP addresses, are a concern. They’ve asked the FBI and the district attorney’s office to help investigate.

“We take it very seriously,” said Flanagan. They also work with other departments and share information. “It is a partnership on all of these incidents.”

(From left) Delaware County DA Jack Stollsteimer, Radnor Police Superintendent Chris Flanagan, Narberth Police Chief John String and Tredyffrin Police Superintendent Michael Beaty.

“We partner and communicate,” agreed Tredyffrin Police Superintendent Michael Beaty. He asked people to “work with us, to be involved.” And also he suggested they get to know their local police officers. “We need your help,” he said.

Narberth Police Chief John String said in his borough, Nana’s Kitchen was vandalized. They rely on community members to help identify vandals. In nearby Wynnewood, Temple Beth Hillel/Beth El was vandalized last month.

Flanagan added, “If you have an incident, with all the hurt that goes along with it, please preserve the evidence. If it’s washed off, we lose DNA, fingerprints. As hard as it is to see it, please wait for the police to get there.”

A few weeks after she was sworn in in 2020, “I had my first death threat. That was from being Jewish,” said Chester County Commissioner Marian Moskowitz.

“I grew up with it where I lived, in Kensington,” she said. “Various times in my life—but the heaviness that sits on all of us at the moment is the most difficult thing I’ve ever seen.”

“I think we need to communicate more with our young people so they understand what it is Jewish people have been going through because they have no clue,” said Moskowitz. “People don’t know how to talk about this and if we don’t allow them to talk about it, we being the Jewish community, there’s never going to be any understanding.”

State Rep. Lisa Borowski (D-Newtown Square) said she’s hearing from people who are “scared and concerned for their loved ones.” There is legislation that’s passed the House and is waiting in the Senate to increase penalties for hate crimes. Other legislation addresses antisemitism and teaching about the Holocaust. Randi Boyette, ADL director of education, said the ADL is advocating for legislation to mandate that students learn about the Holocaust.

During the question-and-answer period, some parents said they were concerned their kids’ classmates were not learning about the Holocaust in school. Both Tredyffrin/Easttown Superintendent Richard Gusick and Radnor Superintendent Kenneth Batchelor said their districts have Holocaust education as part of the curriculum.

Delaware County Council Member Elaine Schaefer said the council had passed a resolution after “some highly disturbing incidents.”

“A resolution is not law. It’s just a piece of paper. As leaders of this community of 500,000 people, it is important to be clear: It is wrong, and we should reject it at all levels.”

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PYATETSKY: Confronting Antisemitism in Our Schools

I am a proud American who fully embraces the United States values, especially freedom of speech. I am also a refugee born and raised in Soviet Kazakhstan and later Uzbekistan. I lived among a Muslim population, surrounded by their faith and culture, and have a deep appreciation for diversity.

I am also a grandchild of Holocaust survivors. As a constant reminder of my Jewish ethnicity, my Soviet Union passport listed my nationality as “Jew.”  Being Jewish is not simply one’s religion but an ethnicity. In fact, Jews are an ethnic minority worldwide. Some of us practice Judaism, some choose other religions, and some are secular. Never could I have imagined that Jew-hatred would find me here, in the land of the free.

As U.S. college campuses erupted with blatant antisemitism, I hoped it wouldn’t reach our quiet suburban schools, yet here we are experiencing it firsthand. I watched in horror as Central Bucks West’s administration turned a blind eye and refused to enforce their policies, and allowed the spread of antisemitic propaganda by one of their teachers, Mr. Abdelwahab, and student members of the MSA club.

I attended the public board meeting to express my concerns about the administration’s disregard for policy violations. I described the hostile school environment it created and asked the board to do their job. I was not there to criticize this teacher’s character, work ethic, or religion.

None of the parents shared those thoughts or words. Yet, school board Vice President Dr. Mahmud read a prepared statement at the meeting claiming that the Jewish parents were on a ”witch hunt” and committing “Islamophobic attacks against a minority teacher.” Her preconceived notions clouded her judgment, and her words are a classic case of victim blaming. It is reprehensible!

Jews lived in the diaspora for thousands of years. Indigeneity of the Jewish people to the land of Israel is undisputable, and so is their right and obligation to defend their people from unprovoked genocidal attacks by terrorists. We are witnessing a deliberate twisting of facts and history to perpetuate antisemitism disguised as anti-Zionism.

Its goal is simple: brainwash and radicalize the impressionable minds in a systematic and calculated way to hate the Jews. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts. We must not let falsehoods told a thousand times become truths!

Per Dr. Mahmud, Mr. Abdelwahab “creates a safe space for students of all backgrounds and interests.” his posts tell us otherwise; they are bursting with false, inflammatory propaganda, glamorization of martyrdom, and calls for intifada. This disinformation campaign adversely impacts the students, the Jewish community, and all of society.

Our concerns weren’t raised because the teacher is Muslim but because he chooses to post antisemitic tropes and propaganda while knowing his students follow his social media and often replicate the same misguided rhetoric on MSA’s club account.  Their one-sided focus on the suffering of Gazans is very telling; they don’t appear at all concerned with the suffering of any other population, including millions of Muslims who are persecuted in Yemen, Syria, Pakistan, or China, not to mention 130-plus hostages still held by Hamas terrorist. Why?

Even after the board meeting, our calls for swift and direct actions went unanswered, and this inaction seemed to embolden the teacher and the club, culminating in a post of a prayer for G-d to “deal with the usurping Jews and the treacherous Zionists” on club’s Instagram. These posts should be seen exactly for what they are: incitement of Jew hatred. History taught us that this rhetoric goes hand-in-hand with violence.

Many of these propaganda posts were brought to the attention of the school district’s administration. Where was their resounding condemnation of this targeted hatred? We highlighted the dangers that stem from the spread of anti-Jewish rhetoric. Where was the board’s commitment to enforce their policies and address violations with meaningful disciplinary actions? At the time of the unprecedented rise in antisemitism and when Jewish students needed support and protection, most of this board stayed silent.

The belated board’s statement, as expected, was tone-deaf. It failed to strongly condemn the only real issue at hand, antisemitism. Also missing was the commitment to address this evident Jew hatred. By lumping the unparalleled antisemitism with an alleged islamophobia and “all other forms of hate,” it undermined the validity of our concerns, lacked the emphasis it deserved, and rendered the message insincere. While all hate should generally be condemned, this is not the time for equivocal statements, nor is this “action” enough.

For our children to feel safe and welcome in the schools, we must see results, policies must be strictly enforced, and there must be consequences. We will not stay silent and let our schools become an accessory to the next Holocaust. We want real actions, and we want them now! “Never again” is now!

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DelVal Jewish Student Takes Campus Antisemitism Into Account When Applying to Universities

For college senior Elisheva Asiag, campus antisemitism limited the graduate schools she’s applying to for her master’s in social work.

Asiag, 22, will graduate from Tuoro College this June with a degree in psychology.

“When I was looking into schools, my advisor (said) the University of Pennsylvania has a really good social work program and also NYU,” said Asiag. So I was thinking of applying to those places, but then all this stuff happened.”

The Montgomery County resident watched three university presidents being questioned by Congress and decided she did not want to go to Penn.

In that December hearing, former Penn President Liz Magill said calling for Jewish genocide is allowed “in context.” Her performance before Congress led to Magill’s resignation.

Asiag’s research also led her away from New York University.

“They didn’t defend the (Jewish) students, and then all the protests were going on, and things were happening to Jewish students on campus,” said Asiag. She thought, “I don’t have to put myself through that if I can go to a different place, that’s also good.”

She applied to Tuoro’s graduate social work program and the Wurweiler School of Social Work at Yeshiva University.

This week, the Antidefamation League (ADL) released a campus antisemitism report card for various colleges. Penn was graded “D,” Drexel “B,” and Swarthmore College “F.” The report card helps parents and students decide where to go to college.

The ADL used 21 criteria in three groups: administrative action and policies, incidents on campus and Jewish student life. Groups of 160 students per campus and “stakeholders,” such as Hillel and Chabad directors, were surveyed.

The report card warns that just because a school receives an “A” or “B” does not mean there is no antisemitism problem. It means the school complies with existing laws. Schools with “C” or “D” may support Jewish students but have a lower grade due to the severity or frequency of incidents.

ADL also reported Tuesday that there was a 140 percent increase in antisemitic incidents in the U.S. in 2023, with a “massive spike” after the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attack on Israel and subsequent war.

In 2023, there were 8,873 incidents of antisemitic assault, harassment and vandalism around the U.S., according to the ADL. Pennsylvania ranked sixth place among the states, with 86 acts of antisemitic vandalism and 303 incidents of harassment. Slightly more than a third of the vandalism included swastikas. Philadelphia had the most incidents, followed by Montgomery County and Chester County.

“The level of antisemitic activity has reached levels that I have never seen before,” said Andrew Goretsky, ADL Philadelphia’s regional director. “It is particularly concerning that in Pennsylvania, we documented five assaults in 2023, all perpetrated against schoolchildren. This does not include over 300 incidents of harassment. Jewish children and adults are being targeted simply for being Jews. When antisemitism is left unchecked, it paves the way for broader waves of intolerance, putting other communities at risk. It is imperative to identify and confront antisemitic incidents as the despicable acts of hatred they are, affirming that such behavior is utterly unacceptable.”

Asiag has not experienced an antisemitic incident directly, but the last six and a half months since the Oct. 7 attack and Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza have her on edge.  Posters of the Israeli hostages held by Hamas that were placed on her dorm walls in New York have been repeatedly torn down. She thought about buying a hostage dog tag necklace but is concerned it would “put a target on my back” as she takes public transit in New York City.

“I thought we were more progressive, in today’s generation, and that people would be more accepting,” said Asiag. “But when something happens to us, you see that people don’t really care about Jewish people and just turn on you in two seconds.”

“Bam, your whole world gets turned upside down.”

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Local Seminar Talks to Jewish Kids, Parents about Campus Antisemitism

When Andrew Goretsky was in college, he had a friend from a rural town in upstate New York who had never met a Jew before.

Goretsky said he was going home for Rosh Hashanah, and his friend asked him what that was. When Goretsky told him it was the Jewish New Year, “He looked at me dumbfounded and said, ‘You’re Jewish?’”

“He said, ‘You can’t be’…He looked at me deadpan and said, ‘Andrew, you don’t have horns.’”

“This was 1991. He was told the reason we wear hats and yarmulkes was we’re covering up our demon horns because we killed Jesus Christ,” said Goretsky, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Goretsky spoke at a seminar for teenagers and parents on dealing with antisemitism Sunday at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr.

According to Goretsky, there were more than 750 complaints of antisemitism filed with the ADL in this region, which also includes South Jersey, in 2023 alone. That’s up from about 500 in 2022. And since the Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel, antisemitic incidents have increased, especially at colleges and universities.

Andrew Goretsky

Jewish students are suing the University of Pennsylvania for antisemitism on campus. Its former president, Liz Magill, resigned due to her lackluster congressional testimony on the topic, as did Harvard’s president. Drexel and Temple face federal civil rights investigations over antisemitism. And in March, Haverford College students held an “Israel Apartheid Month.”

The two speakers at the Bryn Mawr event agreed that Jewish students should know their connection with Israel and be able to articulate what Israel means to them.

Dimas Guaico is the regional campus manager for the Jewish youth organization StandWithUs. Raised as a Christian to Latin American parents and a graduate of Bob Jones University in South Carolina, Guaico detailed Jewish history in Israel from biblical times on.

On May 14, 1948, the British pulled out, and the Jews declared a state.

“After 1,900 years of oppression, they finally have their Jewish state, Israel,” said Guaico. The next day, “five Arab armies invaded Israel for the sole purpose of destroying the newly created Jewish state,” he said.  There were 750,000 Arab refugees and, at the same time, nearly one million Jewish refugees who were driven out of Arab countries and sought refuge in Israel. About 60 percent of Israelis are descendants of Jews from Arab countries, he said.

“It is a myth that Jews lived as equals with Arabs in the Middle East,” he said. Instead, they were “dhimmis,” or second-class citizens and slaves.

The Israelis turned Gaza over to the Palestinians in 2005. In 2006, the Palestinians elected Hamas as their government. Hamas’ charter calls for the destruction of Israel.

Goretsky said social media skews the conversations about the Hamas-Israel conflict.

“I want to encourage you to take the conversations off social media and engage in different ways…because the algorithms are really going to be giving you feedback of emotion,” he said.

“For those of you about to embark on college, you need to think about your own stories as it relates to Judaism, as it relates to Israel. How do you intend to share that?” Goretsky asked.

Many critics of Israel often have a double standard. For example, Israel isn’t the only country that receives U.S. foreign aid, but it’s the country being targeted for ire, he said.

“We’re not saying don’t be critical of Israel. We’re saying don’t be antisemitic,” said Goretsky.

Huntingdon Valley resident Ed Beck, president emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, has a grandchild about to go to college and is concerned. Jewish institutions “need to provide more resistance training” because campus antisemitism “isn’t going to go away,” he said.

“A lot of my peers who don’t understand what’s going on with the conversation may be perpetuating harmful stereotypes or things that aren’t true are getting this information from TikTok or Instagram,” a teenage girl said and asked where to send them for accurate information.

Carl Nathan, a Jewish activist from Newtown Square, said people should know what the claims of pro-Palestinian protestors are so they can respond, and he recited a list.

Guaico referred both to the StandWithUs website.

“If people aren’t willing to have conversations, there is never going to be a road to peace. For us, education is the key to peace,” he said.

The seminar was  hosted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

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Outpouring of Support for Main Line Synagogue Hit By Antisemitic Vandalism

What began as two acts of antisemitic vandalism led to a supportive community gathering at Temple Beth Hillel/Beth El in Wynnewood Monday evening.

About 1,000 people, some carrying Israeli flags or “United against Antisemitism” signs, packed the sanctuary and overflowed into a nearby room.

“We are not worried that bad things are going to happen,” said Rabbi Ethan Witkovsky. “Our biggest concern is that bad things are going to happen and that no one else will care. As we look around at this room, we know that is not the case.”

Christian and Muslim clergy came to support the Jewish congregation, as well as elected officials.

“We truly live our motto of ‘Our house, your home,’” said TBHBE President Josh Kohn. Since he got a phone call telling him about the swastika painted on their sign, he’s had dozens of phone calls. “We’ve all experienced a wide range of emotions. Many of us are angry. Many of us are sad. Many are confused and frustrated at the kind of world we live in…Many of us are scared, as well, worried that minor physical damage could lead to much more.”

On a recent visit to Israel, he discovered that the Israelis he talked to were optimistic. One survivor of the brutal Hamas Oct. 7 attack told him, “We will dance again.”

The synagogue hosted the Overbrook Presbyterian Church in the wake of a fire and the pastor, the Rev. Adam Hearlson, spoke.

“We are here as neighbors, as people bound by the common commandment to love your neighbor…We stand with you in this time,” he said.  “We have a common cause of peace and love and joy, to sing together, to live together.”

Witkovsky said the swastika was meant to “make us afraid.”

“The swastika may have been painted on our property, but it hurts the entire community. It hurts to see the symbol, which, for many of us, has existed only on old photos from a horrible time…We worry, maybe those times are upon us again,” said Witkovsky.  There is a feeling “in the pit of our stomachs” that “something is happening to the Jewish people in our country.”

“Antisemitic acts have been increasing across our country for years. We worry we’re no longer welcome in this land,” he said. But after two generations “of the most peace and prosperity our people have known anywhere, we worry that this swastika, sprayed on a banner, means we’re doomed to go back to a world of swastikas again.”

“We can’t allow the terrible thing this stands for back into our world,” said Witkovsky. But the world is now different from that of “those grainy photographs.” Jews no longer fear the government, and “non-Jews around us have reached out,” he said.

He urged the audience to “fight hatred in all of its forms wherever it’s found.”

“Know you have an ally in us, and we’re thankful to have an ally in you,” he said.

“To the Jews who are here in the room, what is different from past eras of antisemitism? Today, ultimately, each person here, by dint of being alive in this time and this place, each of you has more power and agency in your lives than the rabbis of the past ever imagined was possible,” said Witkovsky. “Each of us has a phenomenal ability to stand up for ourselves, thank God. And we bear the responsibility of that power, to stand up when someone says something, when someone paints something, when someone does something.”

“There is antisemitism around us, to be sure, and it seems to be getting worse or bolder,” he said. “But it is up to us to use the resources we have to stand up for ourselves and each other.”

Ranita Thomas, a TBHBE vice president, told DVJournal she believes there has always been antisemitism, but Oct. 7 and the ensuing war against Hamas have allowed “people to be overt.”

“People are using Oct. 7 as permission to be more antisemitic,” she said. “A lot  of people who have jumped on the Free Palestine bandwagon are truly antisemitic. They feel it’s justified to say what they’re saying now.”

Vandalized sign at Temple Beth Hillel/Beth El.

Adam Ehrlich, also a TBHBE vice president, told DVJournal, “I think it feels more visceral. It feels like large parts of the world are against us. If something like this (terror attack) happened anywhere else, the world would be rallying around a lot more.”

Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia President Michael Balaban attended the gathering at TBHBE.

The federation “strongly condemns the disturbing antisemitic vandalism that occurred at Temple Beth Hillel – Beth El (Sunday). As antisemitism continues to rise nationally and locally, we must work together as a community to make it clear that hate has no place here. We stand with Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El as they address this vandalism while continuing their critical work to unify the Wynnewood Jewish community through prayer, inclusion, and love.”

Gov. Josh Shapiro on X: This is the second message I’ve written like this in as many days. It’s two too many. Antisemitism and the vandalism of a house of worship of any kind have no place in this Commonwealth. I’ve spoken to Rabbi Witkovsky and told him we stand with his wonderful congregation and against hate. PSP is coordinating with our law enforcement partners to apprehend the person(s) responsible. These acts of hate will never change the fact that no matter what you look like, where you come from, who you love, or who you do and don’t pray to, you belong here in Pennsylvania.”

Congresswoman Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery) said on X: “Sickened to see this hateful desecration of a synagogue — and on Easter no less. Antisemitism has no place in Montco or this country. No one should be using nazi symbols in 2024. We must find the people responsible and hold them accountable for this dangerous display of hate.”

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Haverford College Students Host ‘Israel Apartheid Month’ Events

Imagine you’re a Jewish student at a small, exclusive college on the Main Line, where other students are hosting a seminar blaming Israel for allegedly using COVID “as a tool for settler colonialism in Palestine.”

That’s what’s happening at Haverford College this week, part of the school’s “Israel Apartheid Month.”

The Jewish Federation is among those decrying the meeting, which is espousing antisemitic tropes that harken back to Medieval times when “blood libel” was a common antisemitic myth and used to justify pogroms (attacks) against Jews.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia called on Haverford College officials to condemn the student-organized campus event entitled “COVID in Times of Genocide: How Israel uses COVID as a Tool for Settler Colonialism in Palestine.”

“The event’s title dangerously and inaccurately implies that Israel spread coronavirus to advance its global control, repackaging a centuries-old antisemitic trope that Jews take advantage of global crises as a means for their own gain and advancement. In this case, the event’s narrative takes on a new form of the antisemitic blood libel trope, accusing Jews of committing ritual murder and perpetuating the harmful stereotype of Jews as evil and conniving,” the federation said.

“Higher education institutions have a responsibility to establish college campuses as a space for free speech and critical thinking. However, it must be rooted in academic integrity rather than disinformation.

“Haverford College and institutions of all sizes have a responsibility first and foremost to protect the safety of their students. This event and the tension on campus that has led to Jewish students and faculty being vulnerable and victimized constitutes a failure of leadership.

“There should be no tolerance for student events that permit dangerous antisemitic tropes and threaten the safety of Jewish students and faculty, particularly when antisemitism is at an all-time high on college campuses following the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack on Israel,” the nonprofit said.

“We urge Haverford College to take immediate action to show its Jewish students and community members that there is zero tolerance for the spread of misinformation and hate on its campus.”

College officials justified allowing students to hold their event.

“At a time of wide-ranging responses to current global matters, our campus is navigating the complexities of learning in community, articulating political and social points of view, and strengthening the relational bonds that allow learning and expression to happen in a safe environment,” said Chris Mills, a Haverford spokesman.

“Haverford supports its community members’ rights to expressive freedom, including around political matters. The ability to challenge ideas and understand conflicting views is foundational to our academic mission. We also expect that even the most well-intentioned individuals will make mistakes in these arenas, and even–and especially–in those moments, we aim to provide learning opportunities that will lead to greater empathy, mutual understanding, and constructive citizenship in a world that is struggling to reach peaceful solutions to conflict,” said Mills.

Jason Holtzman, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, told DVJournal, “At a semi-prestigious university you would think that students would be smarter than this. But going into conspiratorial, libelous rhetoric is very dangerous and disturbing.”

The students “should have more critical thinking skills than to buy into conspiratorial claims like this. It’s really dangerous.”

Rav Shai Cherry, senior rabbi at Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park, said, “Can’t we expect more from our elite college students than to traffic in a regurgitated blood libel? Is there no commitment to honesty or accuracy in political protests in the age of TikTok?”

“It’s pure insanity,” Holtzman added. “I can’t believe the college would allow this event to go on when antisemitism is at an all-time high on college campuses.”

Haverford is not the only area campus where some students apparently are embracing antisemitism in the wake of the Oct. 7 terror attacks on Israel. The president of the University of Pennsylvania resigned after trying to defend that institution’s policies before Congress.

Haverford College, founded in 1833 by Quakers, has about 1,400 undergraduate students.

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Penn Vet Tries To Mend Fences With PA Legislature Over Campus Antisemitic Incidents

The University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine sent a letter on Jan. 26 to Pennsylvania House Minority Leader Bryan Cutler in an effort to restore its state funding.

In December, the state legislature voted against sending the veterinary school $33 million in state funding in the wake of antisemitic incidents at the University of Pennsylvania. The vote was also a response to congressional testimony from then-President Liz Magill in which she was unable to say that “calling for the genocide of Jews” violated the university’s policies, calling it “a context-dependent decision.”

In the wake of that testimony, criticism from students and alumni, and the withdrawal of support from some significant donors, Magill resigned.

The letter, signed by Penn Vet interim president J. Larry Jameson, M.D. Ph.D. notes the school “provides world-class training to future veterinarians; exceptional clinical care to animals; vital diagnostic testing against devastating diseases; some of which also impact humans; and innovative research that benefits both animal and human health.”

As to the antisemitic incidents on campus that caused the House to vote to remove funding from Penn Vet, the letter notes the university’s division of public safety is working with the FBI and local police to investigate threats and violence. Two students and another person have been arrested.

Regarding faculty and staff, two Penn employees “have separated from university because of their behavior.” All complaints against employees have been referred to the proper disciplinary bodies.

The university condemns “hateful acts.”

The university’s task force on antisemitism has been asked to speed up its timeline for action items. Its Presidential Commission on Countering Hate and Building Community met for the first time on Dec. 19 and will meet again on Feb. 15.

The school supports the General Assembly’s bills to combat antisemitism and stands “clearly and strongly against antisemitism in all its odious forms,” the letter said.

Also, “Penn has investigated all reported acts of antisemitism on campus, and we will continue to do so, taking action in accordance with our policies and the law,” the letter said. “At this time, one student organization has an active case file with the university’s Center for Community Standards and Accountability. We have determined this organization did not receive university funding. We are following our established processes and remain committed to ensuring an environment where students can thrive.”

Jason Gottesman, a spokesman for Cutler, said, “We have had constructive dialogue with leadership at the University of Pennsylvania and hope to continue those productive conversations over the coming weeks as we work toward the shared goal of eliminating antisemitism and calls for the genocide of Jewish people.”

However, antisemitic incidents continue to arise at Penn. Most recently, DVJournal reported that Dwayne Booth,  a lecturer in the Annenberg School of Communication, has been drawing and publishing antisemitic cartoons since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel.

Reacting to those drawings, Michael Balaban, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, said, “Dwayne Booth’s cartoon dangerously invokes the classic antisemitic propaganda of the blood libel. At a time when antisemitism is on the rise across the country, these cartoons only serve to demonize and isolate the Jewish community, minimizing the legitimate threat of antisemitism. We call on the University of Pennsylvania to address Booth’s tenure to show that perpetuating antisemitic tropes should never be tolerated.”

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