Elizabeth Magill was under fire from all sides before her widely reported resignation as president of the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) on Saturday.
For weeks, Magill was roundly criticized for refusing to cancel an anti-Zionist festival hosted on Penn’s campus that featured speakers accused of antisemitism. Then two Jewish students filed a lawsuit accusing the university of refusing to punish harassment and intimidation of Jewish students. And after repeatedly failing last Tuesday to tell a US congressional committee whether calling for the genocide of Jews constituted a violation of Penn’s code of conduct, a major donor threatened to rescind a $100 million gift if she remained on the job.
“It is a context-dependent decision,” Magill told the lawmaker who posed the question. “If the speech becomes conduct, it can be harassment, yes.”
“Conduct meaning committing the act of genocide?” US Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) asked, visibly disturbed by Magill’s answer. “The speech is not harassment? This is unacceptable Ms. Magill.”
The comments stunned the committee and the country, garnering millions of views on social media and causing many observers to wonder why the leader of one of America’s most prestigious institutions of higher education would not, amid a historic surge in antisemitism across the West, not outright condemn anti-Jewish hate.
Magill had several previous opportunities throughout her tenure to denounce hateful, even conspiratorial, rhetoric directed at both Israel and the Jewish community. However, Magill repeatedly declined to respond to the mounting incidents of antisemitism, especially anti-Zionism, on campus, according to an analysis by The Algemeiner of public statements she had issued since July 2022, when she assumed the presidency at Penn.
“Israel is a settler colonial state that uses apartheid to further its ethnic cleansing agenda,” said an essay by Penn Against the Occupation (POA) that was included in the 2022-2023 edition of the Penn Disorientation Guide, a symposium of essays published annually by upperclassmen. It was issued just weeks after Magill started on the job.
“It is time to end the way our school helps to perpetrate human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and organize around divesting from Israel,” the essay continued. “Here’s what you should know about divestment, a popular movement to fight for equality for Palestinians.”
POA went on to charge the university with numerous offenses: Penn “normalizes ties with the occupation” by hosting the Perspectives Fellowship, a program the school’s Hillel chapter founded to educate students about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by taking them on a trip to Israel, as well as Gaza and the West Bank. Penn’s support of Birthright, which sends Jewish students to Israel, “turns a blind eye to the crimes of the Israeli occupation.” Both programs, POA said, “frame the Zionist colonial entity in a positive light.”
Later that semester, after campus police arrested radical student environmentalists for staging an unauthorized protest on school grounds, POA said in an Instagram post that “arresting peaceful protesters is a staple of policing in both the United States and in Israeli-Occupied Palestine.” The group drew a link between the world’s continued dependence on fossil fuels to Israel, saying, “We urge Penn not only to divest from all fossil fuel companies but divest from companies that profit from Israeli apartheid, many of which are one in the same … policies of forced displacement, from Palestine to the UC townhomes in Philadelphia, are all modern-day practices of settler colonialism.”
Neither Magill nor the university responded to the apparent accusation that the Jewish state, conspiring with the US, has caused climate change and colonized both Americans and Palestinians.
The next month, on Nov. 6, POA held a screening of Gaza Fights for Freedom “with snacks provided” in Penn’s Van Pelt Library. The film rationalizes the terrorist acts committed during the Palestinian intifadas against Israel and features a clip of an interview with Hamas co-founder Mahmoud Al-Zahar, who can be heard saying, “We run effective self-defense by all means including using guns.”
The film was directed by Abby Martin, a 9/11 conspiracy theorist and a former host on the Russian-funded media network RT America. Martin, who has compared Israel to Nazi Germany, reposted on social media posts that celebrated Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel.
In March of this year, POA hosted Mohammed El-Kurd during its “Israeli Apartheid Week.” Currently a columnist for the magazine The Nation, the 25-year-old El-Kurd has trafficked in antisemitic tropes, demonized Zionism, and falsely accused Israelis of eating the organs of Palestinians.
In July, POA’s latest contribution to the Penn Disorientation Guide called Israel “a Western proxy,” “another settler colonial state,” and, comparing Israel to South Africa during apartheid, said that only “Israeli Jews” have freedom. It made no mention of Arabs living freely in Israel and participating in government.
“Just like Penn was complicit in supporting the apartheid regime in South Africa, history repeats itself in Penn’s support of the Israeli apartheid regime,” the group charged. “We ask students to speak up about the colonization of Palestine.”
The Algemeiner reviewed statements Magill issued during her tenure. In that time, only once did she comment on issues of race and identity, addressing in June the US Supreme Court’s restricting of race-conscious admissions programs through affirmative action. Up to that point, her public statements were limited to discussing climate change and marginal university business.
Magill did not address rising antisemitism at Penn until Sept. 12, when reports emerged of a scheduled anti-Zionist gathering on campus featuring speakers who promoted antisemitic conspiracies and violence against Israel. The “Palestine Writes Literature Festival” took place on campus from Sept. 22-24.
The event’s itinerary listed speakers such as Palestinian researcher Salman Abu Sitta, who previously said during an interview that “Jews were hated in Europe because they played a role in the destruction of the economy in some of the countries, so they would hate them.” Former Pink Floyd vocalist Roger Waters was also invited to the event. A recent documentary exposed several of Waters’ inflammatory antisemitic statements.
“We unequivocally — and emphatically — condemn antisemitism as antithetical to our institutional values,” Magill said in a statement at the time cosigned by two other high-level school officials. “As a university, we also fiercely support the free exchange of ideas as central to our educational mission. This includes the expression of views that are controversial and even those that are incompatible with our institutional values.”
Despite mounting pressure from alumni, the campus Jewish community, and outside activists, Magill declined to condemn or cancel the event, citing the importance of free speech on campus. In October, in the aftermath of the Hamas atrocities on Oct. 7, she apologized for not condemning the event.
By the time Magill appeared before the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Dec. 5, anti-Israel protests at the university amid the Israel-Hamas war had descended into demagoguery and intimidation of Jewish students, as activists berated pro-Israel counter-protesters for condemning Hamas’ Oct. 7 onslaught.
For roughly seven hours on Oct. 17, protesters walked back and forth across Penn’s grounds chanting, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” — a slogan widely interpreted as a call for the destruction of Israel, which is located between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The demonstrators also chanted “Israel, Israel, you can’t hide, we caught you in genocide.”
At one point, during a gathering of the protesters in front of the Van Pelt Dietrich Library, a high school senior — referred to as “MJ,” who attends the Specialized Science Academy in Philadelphia — was invited to speak. He accused Israel of genocide and harassed others in the area, according to students who witnessed his remarks.
“The Israeli Jew has bastardized Judaism! Bastardized it! Trampled on it! How could you let this genocidal regime crap all over your God and your religion like this?” the speaker said, according to footage posted by POA and seen by The Algemeiner. “How can you, as a people who have seen the same amount of oppression in the past, stand by the same genocidal tactics, and lies, and methods that they use on our people? How could you stand for that? Look at you — you’re not even looking at this direction. You’re scared. You’re scared of being wrong.”
Addressing Jewish students who were standing nearby, he concluded: “I hope you sh—t when you go on your bed tonight. I hope your dreams are filled with the horrors of dead Palestinian babies, burned Palestinian children, dead Palestinian women, a hundred square miles, leveled. I hope this scorches your brain. I hope you are terrified of this, because you should be.”
Magill responded to those protests by condemning hate speech. In fact, most of her statements since June have been about rising unrest on campus over surging antisemitism and heated demonstrations over the conflict in Gaza. In November, she announced Penn’s Action Plan to Combat Antisemitism, calling anti-Jewish hatred an “evil.”
To Magill’s growing detractors, however, it was too little too late, especially after her comments to Congress last week.
“It has been my privilege to serve as president of this remarkable institution,” Magill said in her final statement to the Penn community. “It has been an honor to work with our faculty, students, staff, alumni, and community members to advance Penn’s vital missions.”
Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.
The post For Ousted UPenn President Liz Magill, Backlash Over Campus Antisemitism Response Long Predated Oct. 7 first appeared on Algemeiner.com.
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IDF Chief Weighs in on Ultra-Orthodox Military Service, Week After New Draft Bill Proposed
IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi called on the ultra-Orthodox public to mobilize for the current and future wars, a position at odds with their historic role in the state, in which they enjoy near blanket exemptions from military service.
“In these challenging days, there is one thing that is very clear: Everyone should mobilize for the defense of the homeland,” Halevi said.
He added: “This is a different era, and what was before it will certainly be re-examined. The IDF has always sought to bring into its ranks from all sections of Israeli society. This war illustrates the need to change. Join the service, protect the homeland. We have a historic opportunity to expand the sources of recruitment for the IDF at a time when the necessity is very high. We will know how to create the right solutions and conditions for any population that will join this noble mission.”
The issue of ultra-Orthodox enlistment in the IDF has been a hot button issue since the state’s establishment in 1948 and, in more recent years, the cause of wide scale backlash against the community. As part of an agreement when the state was founded, the ultra-Orthodox public was exempted completely from service. However, as the years progressed and the population grew exponentially, critics of the policy decried the unfairness of it.
A bill last week was introduced by the ruling Likud Party that called for an increase in military service time, particularly for reserve forces, yet failed to discuss the ultra-Orthodox issue. Backlash from both opposition and coalition members was swift.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich at the time said, “The ultra-Orthodox public is dear and loved and contributes a lot to the State of Israel, and it is now essential that it also take a more significant part in the tasks of defense and security. This move should happen out of dialogue and discussion and not by coercion or, God forbid, by defamation. Religious Zionism proves that it is possible to combine Torah study and observance of minor and severe mitzvot together with military service at the front. My ultra-Orthodox brothers, we need you!”
Halevi’s comments were his first on the highly contentious issue.
The post IDF Chief Weighs in on Ultra-Orthodox Military Service, Week After New Draft Bill Proposed first appeared on Algemeiner.com.
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