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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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Police Take Down Pro-Palestinian Encampment at Penn

In the early morning on Friday, police in riot gear showed up on the University of Pennsylvania campus, gave pro-Palestinian protesters two minutes to leave their tent encampment, then began making arrests.

University officials had asked protesters to leave for days as pressure from students, alums, professors, and others in the Penn community grew. Last week, more than 3,000 people signed a petition asking Penn officials to remove the protesters.

On Thursday, Gov. Josh Shapiro, who had served as state attorney general before running for governor, spoke out strongly against the protest.

He called the encampment “unstable” and “untenable.”

“It is past time for the university to act to address this, to disband the encampment,” said Shapiro. “And to restore order and safety on campus. Universities need to work with their own police departments or within the framework of their local police departments in order to make sure students are safe on campus.”

Shapiro’s remarks apparently gave Penn officials the impetus they needed after more than two weeks to move in and break up the encampment.

The protestors demanded information on the university’s investments and that it divest from any companies doing business with Israel.

For about two weeks, Bala Cynwyd resident Beth Samberg and friends have been going to the encampment at 4 a.m. with air horns to wake up the protesters.  There is an encampment at her son’s university, but it is too far away for her to try to intervene, so she’s been going to Penn.

Samberg, who is “proudly Jewish,” said her son, 19, feels threatened by the pro-Palestinian protesters. “We brought him home a week early because of the encampment,” she said. “The [university] administration would not guarantee the safety of the Jewish kids.”

“I am not there to engage or escalate,” said Samberg about her early morning visits to the former Penn encampment. “I am only there to irritate.”

Now that the encampment is cleared, Samberg fears the protesters will return to Penn since she doesn’t have any confidence that progressive Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner will charge them. But if they do, she will continue to wake them up at 4 a.m.

“And at the encampment itself, there were more non-Penn affiliated individuals than Penn students, she added.

A spokesperson for Krasner said his office is not involved.

“They were given Civil Violation Notices (CVNs) by Philly police and released,” said Krasner spokesman Dustin Slaughter.

Penn’s interim president, J. Larry Jameson, issued this statement, which says in part, “This decision is viewpoint neutral and affirmed by our policies. There are times when our abiding commitment to open expression requires balancing free speech with our responsibility to safety, security, and continuing the operations of the University. This is one of those times and why we have acted. Open expression and peaceful protest are welcome on our campus, but vandalism, trespassing, disruption, and threatening language and actions are not.”

The Jewish Federation of Philadelphia issued a statement saying it “commends the University of Pennsylvania for taking decisive action to disband the pro-Palestinian encampment on University of Pennsylvania’s campus this morning. While free speech and critical thinking are essential tenets both on and off college campuses, it had become increasingly clear over the past two weeks that the encampment fostered an atmosphere of intimidation and harassment, particularly towards Jews on campus.

“At a time when antisemitism is at an all-time high, institutions of higher education have a responsibility to ensure that the safety and well-being of Jewish students and faculty is protected. We thank Governor Shapiro, Mayor Parker, the Philadelphia Police Department, and the University of Pennsylvania Police Department for their help in resolving this issue so campus safety and inclusion can be prioritized.”

Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) told Fox News anti-Israel activists should protest Hamas instead.

“It’s actually working against peace in Gaza, and Hamas is convinced that they’ve won the PR war and they keep seeing all these kinds of protests across the nation on these campuses. And it’s not helpful, but it’s actually — it works against peace, I think,” Fetterman said.

Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) did not immediately respond when asked to comment.

Casey’s Republican opponent Dave McCormick, who told DVJournal that he opposed the university encampments, posted to social media Friday, “Good. The encampment should have been disbanded weeks ago.”

The Philadelphia Antidefamation League posted to X, “Now is the time for policy breakers to be held accountable. As we’ve said, we support and defend free speech; but free speech is not a free license to violate time, place and manner restrictions, harass peers, interfere with the education rights of other students on campus.”

Manuel Bonder, a spokesman for Shapiro, told DVJournal, “As Gov. Shapiro has made clear multiple times, all Pennsylvanians have a right to peacefully protest and make their voices heard. The governor has also made clear that universities have a legal responsibility to keep their students safe and free from discrimination.

“Unfortunately, the situation at Penn reached an untenable point – and as the university stated publicly, the encampment was in violation of university policy, campus was being disrupted, and threatening, discriminatory speech and behavior were increasing. After Penn’s weeks-long efforts to engage protestors were met with further escalation, today, the University of Pennsylvania’s leadership made the right decision to dismantle the encampment.

“We thank the City of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Police Department, and University of Pennsylvania Police Department for their professional work to resolve the situation quickly and peacefully,” Bonder added.

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Chesco Ballot Problems in the Eye of the Beholder?

So, what happened on Election Day in Chester County? Ballot fiasco or “no big deal”?

Dr. Gordon Eck, chair of the Chester County Republicans, has requested a forensic audit of the November 2 election. He pointed to what he alleges were multiple ballot problems. His Democratic counterpart, Charlotte Valyo, dismissed those concerns and sees no need for further action.

The county Board of Elections is expected to discuss the issue on Tuesday, November 23, after Republican minority Commissioner Michelle Kichline sided with Eck and called for a recount. Residents who are concerned about election integrity have taken to the streets and held protests at the Chester County Courthouse to voice their concerns.

Republican Greg Simotas, who ran for a seat on the Downingtown School Board, was ahead in the vote count on election night. But by Wednesday morning his margin had dropped and eight days later the results showed he had lost at 45 percent to Democrat LeeAnn Wisdom, who ended up with 53 percent. Simotas is not claiming there was fraud. But he says the process of counting the ballots was not smooth and he was disturbed that misplaced ballots were found after the election, among other irregularities. He says an investigation is needed for people’s “peace of mind about the integrity of the election.”

“We need to get to the bottom of what happened,” Simotas said. The process was “inefficient and sloppy.”

A GOP press release outlined the details of alleged irregularities, which included mail-in ballots that were damaged by a machine that opens the mail and then taped together, jammed scanners, a bag of uncounted 265 ballots found days after the election, and problems with UBS computer sticks with votes stored on them.

Kichline sent a letter to her colleagues saying “these irregularities continue and must be fixed.”

“More importantly, the county must clearly identify and correct the failures of its election processes so that all our citizens may feel confident that their votes will be properly counted, recorded, and certified in future elections,” Kichline wrote. “Specifically, we must have answers about the chain of custody for every last vote cast in this election. The voters of Chester County deserve to know that their votes, whether sent by mail or cast in person, were properly handled and counted.”

Eck called the election process “a fiasco.”

“The issue is the process. How do I know my ballot wasn’t taped? What was the chain of custody? There needs to be an investigation. While this election had a 39 percent turnout, what will happen in 2022 when the Senate and governor’s race bring out 69 percent or more? How great is the magnitude of the problem? Election integrity is fundamental to our whole democracy,” Eck said.

But Chester County Democrats have another view.

“The continued insistence by the Republican chair that there were serious problems during this election is not just an effort to undermine confidence in election results, but also casts doubts on the performance of the Republican solicitor,” said Valyo. “Both the Republican and Democratic solicitors were included in all decisions made that affected the ballot counting processes. Both the Republican and Democratic solicitors agreed to the reconciliation process, the scanning process, and the determination that all ballots were secure at all times. Ballots have been counted and the results uploaded to the CCVS website and reported to the Department of State. As always there will be a bipartisan review of all election processes to improve procedures going forward.”

She also thanked everyone who voted and those who work at Voter Services.

“Chester County Voter Services has now uploaded election results that include all in-person, mail-in and absentee, provisional, and military/civilian overseas votes,” said Rebecca Brain, county spokesperson. “Throughout the ballot counting process, Voter Services staff has worked alongside both the Democratic and Republican parties, as well as experts from our voting system vendor, ES&S.  Having identified a discrepancy during the counting of mail-in and absentee ballots late last week, the county identified and isolated the cause of the issue, and recounted the impacted ballots in order to ensure every legally-cast vote was counted. These results remain unofficial until certified by the Board of Elections.”


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