inside sources print logo
Get up to date Delaware Valley news in your inbox

UPenn’s Magill Once Again Slow to Respond to Antisemitism, Jewish Groups Say

University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill is once again facing criticism for her slow response to antisemitism on campus.

Michael Balaban, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, and Jason Holtzman, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, sent an open letter to Magill asking her to respond after antisemitic graffiti was found on Oct. 20 at Penn’s Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) chapter house, which is known as a Jewish fraternity.

The graffiti read: “The Jews R Nazis.”

“The University of Pennsylvania’s swift condemnation of this graffiti is needed to show Jewish students that you are committed to ensuring their safety and well-being, especially at a time when it is being threatened nationwide,” the Jewish leaders wrote.

M. Elizabeth “Liz” Magill, president of the University of Pennsylvania.

“While we understand that the University’s Division of Public Safety is still investigating the incident as ’a potential hate crime,’ the wording used is irrefutably antisemitic and therefore deeply painful for Jewish students and their allies to witness.”

“A recent Hillel International survey reported that since the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel, 56 percent of Jewish students feel scared on campus, and 1 in 4 report that there has been an act of antisemitic violence or hate on their campus in the last 10 days,” they added.

There have been pro-Hamas demonstrations, including one where a Jewish student was injured, Holtzman said.

“Faculty at Penn have participated in those rallies and promoted them in their classrooms,” said Holtzman. “And that’s unacceptable behavior, too. And I think President Magill needs to show leadership and make it clear that Penn will not tolerate rallies that promote jihad and where Jewish students get assaulted, and Jewish students are told to go back to Berlin, to go back to Poland…That type of rhetoric is unacceptable for a campus or anywhere in our society.”

And, they noted, “The Secure Community Network (SCN) has reported an alarming uptick in antisemitic incidents concentrated on college campuses since Oct. 7. SCN received 94 antisemitic incident reports on college campuses, representing 15 percent of the total 614 antisemitic incidents logged across the country during the month of October.”

“We appreciate your commitment to better supporting Jewish students on Penn’s campus following the Palestine Writes Festival held on campus in September. However, as the university continues to consider its policies to effectively combat antisemitism on campus, we remind you how critical timeliness and consistency are to setting the precedent that antisemitism and hate have no place at Penn. Penn’s statement on this matter is necessary to ensure that Jewish students understand that they have your protection and support on campus,” the letter said.

As of Monday evening, Magill had yet to respond to the federation. And a Penn spokesperson did not reply to DVJournal.

Holtzman told DVJournal he has heard from Penn, Temple, and Drexel students who are afraid on those campuses.

Students have “expressed the real feeling of being under threat and not feeling safe on campus,” said Holtzman. They “are not comfortable speaking Hebrew on campus. They’re not comfortable wearing a Star of David on campus.”

And other students have also stopped wearing the hijab or veil, he said.

“Penn Hillel is horrified by the recent uptick in antisemitism on campuses – including Penn – and in many spaces around the country and world,” said Rabbi Gabe Greenberg, executive director of Penn Hillel. “We will continue to work closely with university leadership to ensure they understand the severity of this issue and that they act upon it to ensure that Jewish students feel safe and secure on campus. We are also in close contact with the students of AEPi so that we understand their needs and can help amplify their voice to the administration.”

When asked if he thought this would be “the new normal,” Holtzman said he hoped it is not a permanent situation.

“But I think it’s very clear that there’s been a great deal of antisemitism existing in our society, in our city for a long time,” said Holtzman. “And it doesn’t take much for people to show the worst of themselves.”

“The truth is that Israel is responding to a terrorist group that invaded their sovereign borders and massacred people, tortured people, raped and kidnapped people,” Holtzman continued. “And Israel is forced to respond to those actions on behalf of Hamas. We saw within less than 24 hours after the attack occurred on Oct. 7, there were protests and rallies already taking place throughout Philadelphia and on and off campus.

“So we know that the people who hold these deeply problematic and bigoted views are here. And it doesn’t take much for them to act.”

Holtzman added, “We have a lot of work to do in terms of education. Israel is not fighting against the Palestinian people, against the Muslim people. Israel is fighting a war against the radical terrorist groups, and had Hamas not done what they did on Oct. 7, there would be no war.”

In Israel, 300,000 people are now homeless, he added.

Israel Solidarity Rally Brings 1,000 to Wynnewood

At a rally held in solidarity with Israel Monday night, Ardmore resident Amichai Shdemah told the story of his step-grandmother’s abduction from her home in Nir Oz kibbutz by Hamas terrorists.

The woman, whom Shdemah calls “Savta” or grandmother, is 84.

“We know some details. In the morning, she was hiding in the safe room,” Shdemah said. “Later, a neighbor heard her calling for help and went outside. He realized he couldn’t help her. There were too many terrorists, and he fled back to his safe room.”

Family members kept trying to call her cell phone. Eventually, someone answered and said in Arabic, “Hamas.”

“We are helpless and sick with worry,” he said. Officials gave the family no information. “They have checked hospitals,” he said. “And the list of the dead.”

“She was a social worker who worked with many families,” he continued. She has the “gift of an enormous family and remembers everybody’s birthday. She always made us feel part of her family. Her chicken soup is our kids’ favorite.”

Gov. Josh Shapiro

With signs that said “Philly Stands With Israel” and blue and white Israeli flags, around 1,000 people rallied in Wynnewood to support the Jewish state after the horrific Hamas terrorist attack that began on Saturday.

The group prayed, sang, and listened to remarks from politicians, clergy, and Jewish community leaders.

Michael Balaban, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Jewish Federation, organized the rally. He thanked the supporters and donors who’ve aided the beleaguered Jewish state.

“I don’t have sufficient words to describe the horror of the past few days,” said Balaban. “To wake up on Saturday morning, on Shabbat, a day of rest and Smideot Serot, to the news that Israel, our Jewish homeland and our Jewish people, had been attacked with thousands of rockets. And hundreds of terrorists infiltrated from Gaza. The news of Israelis being murdered, taken hostage, thousands wounded.”

“To read news of toddlers being kidnapped by terrorists,” said Balaban. “To know that refresh of social media or the news would bring with it horrific new details. We stand united, but we also stand in pain together,” he said. “We are heartbroken. We cry together. We are grieving. And we are angry.”

“In our own streets of Philadelphia and in Times Square,” he added, “while Jews are being massacred, there are those that cheer for our destruction. We’ve heard them call these terrorists’ freedom fighters,’ but that’s not what they are. They’re murderers who’ve stolen the lives of innocent Jews.”

“We’ve seen this same hatred time and time again. Like a virus, hatred of Jews has survived over time by mutating,” he said.

Gov. Josh Shapiro said, “We stand against terror, and we stand with Israel.”

Many are worried about our friends and family in Israel, which is “now a war zone.”

Others have never been to Israel but “recognize its critical role in the world. You recognize what Israel represents: Freedom. Democracy and peace. Those are values that we as Americans and we as Pennsylvanians hold dear.”

The gathering was near the spot where William Penn arrived 341 years ago, said Shapiro.

Penn had “a vision to build a colony built on the promise of religious tolerance and understanding,” said Shapiro. “Today, three and half centuries later, I am honored to address you tonight, both as the 48th governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and as a proud American Jew.”

“We must condemn the horrific acts of war perpetrated by Hamas and their enablers,” Shapiro said. “Hundreds of Israelis are among the dead and captured. But so are American citizens, as well as British, French, Canadian, Mexican, and so many other nationalities…These unprovoked attacks on innocent civilians warrant condemnation here in America and all across our globe…Let me speak the truth. There is no moral equivalency between Hamas, a foreign terrorist organization as designated by the United States, and Israel,  the only functioning pluralistic democracy in the Middle East.”

Tsach Sa’ar, Acting Consul General of Israel, said, “My homeland is bleeding. My homeland is burning. And my homeland is the closest ally of your homeland in the Middle East and beyond. This same homeland is the spiritual anchor for the Jewish community in America.”

On a joyous day in the Jewish calendar, “Palestinian terrorists from Hamas unleashed unprecedented terror. They killed over 1,000 individuals. Left thousands injured. And abducted more than 100. The victims, Jews and non-Jews, Israelis and Americans, and other foreigners…The atrocities committed are unspeakable. Children were murdered. Women were assaulted and abducted to Gaza. Elderly women at a bus stop were sprayed with bullets. Others were set ablaze.”

“It marks the deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust,” said Sa’ar.

Gail Norry

“These horrifying actions were not just against Israel. They were acts against America, against the free world and all of humanity.”

Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Philadelphia/Delaware) and about 14 state legislators attended the rally. Representatives from the offices of other area congressional representatives, as well as from Sen. Bob Casey and Sen. John Fetterman, attended.

“I stand with Israel 100 percent,” said Philadelphia resident Gail Norry before the rally. “I’m horrified at what has happened. They took innocent lives. Havoc has been wreaked.

“These were people sleeping in their homes,” said Norry. “Young adults at a concert. They just had their entire lives turned upside down. The nature of the attack, just how horrible it was.” She had just traveled to Israel in May to celebrate Israel’s 75th anniversary.

“It is the only place to be in Philly if you’re a strong supporter of Israel and a proud Jew,” said Joshua Steinerman, a Bala Cynwyd resident who came with his family.