Just two months after Hamas carried out brutal and horrific attacks on Israeli men, women, and children, former University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill told Congress that Penn students can call for genocide against Jews depending on “the context.”
Although she released a video walking back that statement, a controversy has ensued with the Ivy League school’s board of trustees considering whether to remove her. Congress is now investigating Penn, as is the civil rights division of the Department of Education. The campus has been rocked by antisemitic incidents and pro-Hamas protests, leaving Jewish students fearful.
Friday, three Republican representatives began circulating sponsoring memos for bills that would fight antisemitism in the state.
One bill, sponsored by Rep. Robert Mercuri (R-Allegheny), would ensure that any institution of higher education in the state that receives direct funding from the state must acknowledge antisemitism as harassment and bullying.
A second bill sponsored by Reps. Kristin Marcell (R-Richboro) and Joe Hogan (R-Penndel) would require the Department of Education to write curriculum guidelines for schools offering Holocaust and genocide instruction. It would also require transparency for parents so they know what their children are learning.
In addition, Hogan sponsored a resolution declaring November 9, 2024, as Antisemitism Awareness and Education Day in Pennsylvania.
The lawmakers noted that The Economist recently released a poll result that showed 1 in 5 young Americans think the Holocaust is a myth. And that disinformation about Hamas’ barbarity toward the Israelis is spreading online.
Marcell, a former Council Rock School Board member, said students in that district learn about the Holocaust and genocide, but not every district teaches it.
In middle school, the students read Elie Weisel’s Holocaust memoir “Night,” then do a project about it, whether that is a poem, making a model, or something on the internet game Minecraft, she said.
“Unfortunately, not every school district uses that type of curriculum,” said Marcell. “It’s time for us to take action and ensure our youth understand,” said Marcell.
She was also struck by a recent antisemitic incident in her district. On November 1, a group of masked men yelling “Free Palestine” ripped down an Israeli flag from a wall of the Café Ole in Upper Southampton, took it outside the restaurant, and trashed it, terrifying staff and patrons.
Marcell hopes these bills will get bipartisan support. She noted the Pennsylvania House came together on October 17 and passed a resolution urging Congress to provide the State of Israel with the support necessary to ensure its safety and security and condemn the terrorist attack in Israel by Hamas.
Mercuri said, “We thought it was the right thing to do to pass this so everyone on campus feels safe. What occurred in the United States Congress this week was both heartbreaking and abhorrent.”
Mercuri said he called for Penn’s board of trustees to take immediate action right after he found out about Magill’s statements. For the leader of “an elite university” to condone antisemitism “made us shudder,” he said.
“People contacted me about the testimony of the Penn president,” said Marcell. “And they are very concerned. So, when you combine some of the things that have happened over the last couple of weeks, I believe we have to take action to help educate and create awareness about antisemitism, making sure that people know about the Holocaust and that it isn’t a myth. It’s time for us to take action and make sure our youth understand. This is a history lesson they need to know about and that we don’t want to repeat.”
“I really do hope by early next week we will have a bipartisan group of members supporting it,” said Marcell.