Sunday night, I was sitting in a café watching the Eagles lose to the Jets. Admittedly, I was not in a very good mood to begin with. Alas, a few shots of anisette didn’t lighten my spirits. My lone ray of emotional sunshine was the prospect of a Phillies sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLDS.
And then I saw the waiters rushing to the door of the restaurant, and I saw police lights glaring through the windows. When I got up to see what was happening, a phalanx of Philadelphians marched by waving Palestinian flags and signs that supported Gaza.
As I inched closer, I noticed a few anti-Israel signs as well. And as if that weren’t bad enough, there were chants of “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free.”
Not one to miss the opportunity to have my opinions heard, I grabbed my cell phone and started recording, expressing my views on people marching in support of terrorists. You might quibble with my characterization of support for “Palestine” (not a historically recognized country) and Hamas, and they are not necessarily equivalent.
But the fact that there were seemingly hundreds of Philadelphians wrapping themselves not in the flag of persecuted Israeli women and children but of the people who attacked them infuriated me. And I said so.
Two men behind me called me the “B” word (and I am not referring to “beautiful”) and laughed at my one-woman counterprotest. They were older men, stout and grizzled, with the colors of Palestine in the scarves wrapped around their necks. I glared back at them and asked how they felt about the murder of babies. They laughed again and walked on with fists raised, screaming, “Palestine will soon be free.”
So, you will excuse me if I don’t celebrate the belated attempts at PR triage being done at some of the elite institutions around the country. When Hamas launched its genocidal attack against Israel last Saturday, several student groups at universities like Harvard and Columbia — and locally, like Swarthmore and LaSalle — issued statements blaming Israel for the shed blood of its own people. Others remained silent.
Most notably, Penn, which has a flourishing Jewish community, didn’t issue any words of condemnation for the Palestinian terrorists.
And people started noticing. Donors like Marc Rowan, a Wharton grad, penned an op-ed exhorting other alums to withhold funding from the school unless and until it condemned Hamas. His request went further. Last month, on the eve of Yom Kippur, Penn hosted the Palestine Writes Literature Festival on its campus. This event included well-known, vocal antisemites as featured speakers. This caused a great deal of anguish for Jewish students at Penn, and Rowan condemned the school for not doing enough to take their feelings into consideration before allowing this sort of event to take place.
A few days later, Jon Huntsman, former governor of Utah, former presidential candidate, former ambassador and 1987 Penn grad, announced that his family’s foundation would no longer contribute to Penn, writing in a letter that it would “close its checkbook” to further donations.
This caused Penn President Liz Magill to issue a statement condemning terrorist acts. It was much too little and far too late. Some of the students whose names were affixed to those condemnations of Israel from Harvard also walked back their support for Palestine, claiming that they hadn’t fully understood what they were signing.
All of this is a sign of cowardice, a form of cowardice that is shameful in the face of the greatest attack on the Jewish people since the Holocaust. There should be no place in our society for those who sit back and wait to see which way the wind is blowing before they condemn the gruesome evil we’ve seen inflicted on the people — the children, the babies — of Israel.
The time for speech and support was in the moments after news emerged of the massacres in Gaza, not a week later when job offers were rescinded and checkbooks began to close. There should never have been a “Hamas is bad, but so is Netanyahu” narrative while children were dying in their cribs. The obscenity of the reaction from some in elite academia is appalling, and Magill’s attempt at triage, most likely to keep her donors happy, is repugnant.
There have been courageous voices, but they are not coming from academia. One of the most courageous was the Vatican’s representative in Jerusalem, Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzabella, who offered himself to Hamas in exchange for the release of Israeli children being held hostage. He did not have to wait to see which way the wind was blowing to find his humanity.
It’s a shame that Liz Magill and her colleagues across the country found safety in silence. Only it wasn’t that safe, after all.