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Jewish Students Sue University of Pennsylvania, Allege Civil Rights Violations Amid Rampant Campus Antisemitism

University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill testifies during a House Education and Workforce Committee hearing on holding campus leaders accountable and confronting antisemitism, at the US Capitol, in Washington, DC, on Dec. 5, 2023. Photo: Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA via Reuters Connect

Two Jewish students have sued the University of Pennsylvania (Penn), alleging that the school violated their civil rights by “selectively” enforcing rules that would punish those who harass and intimidate Jewish students, hiring radical anti-Zionist professors, and fostering a hostile learning environment.

“The harassment and discrimination on campus and in the classroom is intolerable,” said the complaint, filed on behalf of plaintiffs Eyal Yakoby and Jordan Davis in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. “Plaintiffs and their Jewish peers are routinely subjected to vile and threatening antisemitic slurs and chants such as ‘intifada revolution,’ ‘from the river to the sea,’ ‘F—k the Jews,’ ‘the Jews deserve everything that is happening to them,’ you are a dirty Jew, don’t look at us,’ ‘keep walking you dirty little Jews,’ ‘get out of here k—kes,’ and go back to where you came from.’”

The complaint, viewed by The Algemeiner, alleges that antisemitism at Penn is an “institutional problem” that has been worsening for many years but became acute in September, when the school hosted an anti-Zionist festival that featured several speakers who called for violence against israel and were accused of promoting antisemitic conspiracies. For weeks, the school would not condemn the event, and Penn president Elizabeth Magill recently apologized for not doing so — after it took place.

“Incredibly, Penn’s administration did not just ignore students’ pleas to distance itself from the festival and antisemitic speakers invited to attend but also thumbed its nose at the pleas of Penn’s own trustees and alumni,” the complaint continued. “The antisemitic speakers at the festival lived up to their reputations, inveighing against ‘Jewish supremacism’ and the ‘messianic mindset’ of ‘religious Jews’ who are willing to ‘put up with anything to take over more land.’”

Antisemitic episodes on campus skyrocketed after Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, with both students and faculty calling for Israel’s destruction and harassing Jewish members of the campus community. However, the complaint noted, such incidents were hardly new.

In 2018, for example, Penn granted a pro-boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) group permission to hold a “teach-in” on campus. In 2019, a group of Penn Law students accused the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) of wielding undue influence on school policy and lodging false charges of antisemitism against anti-Zionists with the aim of “hindering our ability to have a balanced conversation about Israel.” In 2020, a professor forced students to take a “privilege quiz” in which Judaism was “ranked as the most privileged” identity category. In 2021, during Israel’s last war with Hamas, Penn’s Center and Program in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies issued a statement accusing Israel of “ethnic cleansing” and called for the destruction of the Jewish state.

This March, the anti-Zionist group Penn Against the Occupation (POA) hosted Mohammed El-Kurd during its “Israeli Apartheid Week.” Currently a columnist for the left-wing 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. Over the past two years he has widely toured across American university campuses, heightening concerns about rising antisemitism and harassment against pro-Israel students.

On Oct. 7, as scenes of Hamas terrorists abducting children and desecrating dead bodies in Israel circulated worldwide, POA members held an “Emergency Solidarity Rally” where one of its members congratulated Hamas on a “job well done.” According to the complaint, the student said, “When they woke up in the morning, and they found the field hands in the house, with a knife, ready to cut their f—king throats. I was late to the news but when I heard it, I smiled. I don’t want to hear that bulls—t, 250, 250, innocent Israelis are dead. F—k ’em. Again, I swear, I salute Hamas.” In the ensuing days, Penn professor Anne Norton said on social media that she was “ashamed” of former US President Barack Obama for condemning Hamas.

The lawsuit went on to recount numerous incidents of alleged harassment, vandalism, and intimidation, concluding that Penn “has failed to fact or has acted with leniency and/or delay in applying its policies when a known or reported incident involved antisemitism or where the victim was a Jewish or Israeli student, including plaintiffs.”

The student are demanding a jury trial and payment for “substantial damages” they have incurred. They are being represented by the Law Offices of Eric A. Shore, P.C. and Kasowitz, Benson, and Torres LLP.

News of the lawsuit came amid a wave of criticism that hit Magill after she evaded answering whether calling for the genocide of Jews on the school’s campus constituted a violation of its code of conduct during a hearing on campus antisemitism held by the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Tuesday.

“It is a context-dependent decision, congresswoman,” Magill said, responding to US Rep. Elise Stefanik (D-NY), who posed the question. “If the speech becomes conduct, it can be harassment, yes.”

“Conduct meaning committing the act of genocide?” Stefanik asked, visibly disturbed by Magill’s answer. “The speech is not harassment? This is unacceptable Ms. Magill.”

On Wednesday, Magill apologized.

“In that moment, I was focused on our university’s longstanding policies aligned with the US Constitution, which say that speech alone is not punishable,” she said in a video posted on X/Twitter. “I was not focused on, but I should have been, the irrefutable fact that a call for genocide of Jewish people is a call for some of the most terrible violence human beings can perpetrate.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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Powerful Play Questions Whether a Jewish Father Gave Secrets to Russia

Charlotte Cohn and Roger Hendrick Simon as Alina and her father Hillel with her husband Moses (Simon Feil) behind. Photo: Steven Pisano.

“I’m a Jew,” an elderly man named Hillel declares to an unknown voice in This Is Not a Time of Peace at Manhattan’s Theatre Row on 42nd Street.

Roger Hendricks Simon delivers a fine performance as Hillel, a man with anxiety, guilt, and memory problems, yet who is still cogent much of the time. The audience wants to know whether or not he betrayed America by giving away secrets to a Russian man named Daniil, who stayed at his home one night.

Charlotte Cohn stars as his daughter, Alina, and gets things moving with a powerful opening monologue. She wants to help her father find out the truth and she wonders if he was a communist, though it shouldn’t matter. Cohn is excellent in depicting a woman who has insight into her actions, but struggles to fight her temptations.

One of the most shocking elements of this play is not only that the infamous Joseph McCarthy is a character, but that actor Steven Rattazzi is able to depict the senator so well, with the proper cadence, diction, and oratory gusto. He is mesmerizing. I wanted to get on stage and hit him, but an actor in the show takes care of that.

“It gave me such pleasure to write that,” playwright Deb Margolin told me in an interview.

The play is a fictional account based on some true tribulations that Margolin’s father, Harold, had — namely that he was accused of being a communist later in life. He was defended pro-bono by famed attorney Adolf Berle, a chief speechwriter of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

“My father died at 100, less than a year ago,” Margolin said. “He knew I was writing this play.”

McCarthy’s hearings led to many being blacklisted, and he pressured people to offer up names of communists. Here, Hillel begrudgingly reveals a list, but what’s on it is quite surprising.

Alina claims to love her husband, Moses (Simon Feil), but is having an affair with Martin (Ken King), who says he loves her. Feil is masterful as a cocksure man who is not always emotionally available to his wife and hasn’t bothered to read her article in Harper’s Bazaar. King, besides providing eye candy when he shows off his muscular physique, is on point as a lover willing to dastardly tell Alina he will give her secret documents she has been seeking, if she gives him what he wants. Alina wears a Magen David necklace, and isn’t sure if her father betrayed his country, but she’s sure she betrayed her husband.

Richard Hollis adds a jolt of electricity as Daniil, who shocks Hillel by explaining that if he doesn’t get the required information, he will be “terminated.” It is impossible to watch this and not think of Alexei Navalny, who survived being poisoned, but flew back to Russia, knowing the worst could happen to him. And as we found out last week, it did.

The technique of having characters sit on the stage the entire time, but sometimes motionless and in the dark when the focus is on others, is a metaphor for the fact that evil inclinations may sit dormant and pop up after years. We must be prepared to confront them.

This Is Not a Time of Peace is also timely, as Oppenheimer, a film that spends a good deal of time showing J. Robert Oppenheimer being questioned for his communist connections, will likely win the Oscar for Best Picture on March 10.

Directed by Jerry Heymann and written by Margolin, this show will make you think about the things we take for granted. Alina utters the play’s title once, and it comes from the words of McCarthy.

“Hitler said the problem is from within, McCarthy said it, and we’re seeing the same thing today,” Margolin said.

This Is Not A Time of Peace is a timely and compelling slow burn with a powerful payoff. It runs through March 16.

The author is a writer based in New York.

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Journalists Using Israel-Hamas War as a Pretext for Claiming Tel Aviv Is Israel’s Capital

Illustrative: A general view shows the plenum at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Jerusalem. Photo: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

More than a decade ago, HonestReporting achieved significant success in changing the way that The Guardian reports on Israel, setting a journalistic precedent in the UK.

Following a complaint to the then-UK media regulatory body, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) — which included launching legal action to pressure the PCC to enforce its own rules — The Guardian officially acknowledged that Tel Aviv is not the capital of Israel.

While it was, sadly, a stretch too far for The Guardian to recognize Jerusalem’s status, the newspaper nevertheless updated its style guide. Since then, we have only had to complain to Guardian editors on a handful of occasions when a reporter has erroneously stated that Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital in news copy (see here and here).

It is a similar story with other international media outlets that, depending on their editorial policies, normally either refer to Jerusalem as the capital or avoid mentioning Israel’s capital city at all.

However, since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of publications “mistakenly” describing Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital.

Since October 7, media organizations including CNN, The New York Times, The Daily Mail, The Times of London, The Independent, and The Telegraph have all made this error. Worryingly, several of them have failed to issue corrections, citing specious grounds.

Thank you, @washingtonpost for amending your text in response to our request.

Tel Aviv should never be used as a synonym for Israel’s capital.

— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) February 21, 2024

Although the majority of outlets have swiftly responded to HonestReporting’s request for a correction, The Daily Mail was one of the publications that refused to amend several of its pieces, arguing that Israel’s military headquarters are based in Tel Aviv, which is where decisions relating to the war have been made.

This is the very definition of a publication getting off on a technicality: the IDF’s headquarters is physically located in Tel Aviv.

So even though Israel’s war cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, frequently convenes in Jerusalem and the holy city remains Israel’s capital, some journalists have asserted their use of “Tel Aviv” as a synonym for Jerusalem strictly refers to from where military decisions are emanating.

“But the ask, according to this reporting, may be too big for Tel Aviv to agree to.”

No, @CNN, Tel Aviv won’t be agreeing to anything because political decisions are made in Israel’s capital Jerusalem.


— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) February 7, 2024

Of course, HonestReporting has disputed this point and secured numerous corrections in the process.

Concerning British media outlets, we have referred to the fact that the United Kingdom does not recognize Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital, while the United States officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital city in 2017.

In addition, no United Nations resolution has ever determined that Tel Aviv is, or should be, the capital of Israel.

The reality is that Jerusalem has always been Israel’s capital and the city is home to the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), the Supreme Court of Israel, the Prime Minister and President’s official residences, the Bank of Israel, and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Capital cities are chosen by sovereign states — as is their right. They are not determined by interfering outsiders who think they can simply reimagine Israel’s geography.

It would be both baffling and inaccurate if Israeli journalists suddenly started referring to New York as the US capital in news stories, or used Manchester as a synonym for London when writing about British politics.

Why, then, do some journalists find it acceptable to make similar errors with Israel?

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

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They Shouldn’t Ban Shechita, But Sure They Can

European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, in this file picture taken October 28, 2015. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo

One Shabbat, during the time I was studying for a Master’s degree in International Law and Human Rights, I mentioned the courses I was taking to a rabbi. He looked perplexed, then gestured towards his synagogue bookshelf loaded with thick books of Talmud and codes of Jewish law. “Human rights is all here,” he protested. “Why would you go to a university?”

Human rights and Jewish values often overlap. But unfortunately, sometimes they don’t. This was on stark display earlier this month, as the European Court of Human Rights upheld a ban on shechita (Jewish ritual slaughter) which was recently imposed by the governments of two regions of Belgium. The Belgium law requires that all animals be anaesthetized or stunned before slaughter, which according to Halacha, renders the meat not kosher.

Jewish and Muslim groups both protested that this requirement violates their human rights. In particular, they cited their right to freedom of religion, claiming that a ban on kosher slaughter interferes with their ability to live according to their faith. Many Jewish spokesmen were livid with the court, with the European Jewish Congress even releasing a statement saying that coupled with rising acts of antisemitism, this decision called into question whether there is a future for Jews in Europe.

The court’s ruling, however, was well grounded in human rights principles. It was based on two findings. First, preventing unnecessary pain and suffering to animals falls under a category of government responsibility known as preserving public morals. This makes ensuring humane slaughter a legitimate government interest. Second, this requirement that animals be stunned before slaughter was a narrowly tailored and proportionate method of achieving the goal of making slaughter more humane.

But what about the difficulty this causes for Jews and Muslims trying to observe their religious dietary laws? The court decided that the fact that this law interferes with some citizens’ religious observance isn’t enough to block it. The reason is that freedom of religion does not extend to situations where religious practice violates other human rights.

The right to religious freedom consists of the right to choose one’s own beliefs, and to practice those beliefs only in ways that do not violate the rights and freedoms of others. This includes the right of people to live in a society that upholds what they consider to be basic morals, such as not causing unnecessary pain and suffering for animals. So the right to freedom of religion does not protect religious practices that go against this principle. In the extreme, imagine a hypothetical religious ritual that requires torturing an animal. In such a case, the government could forbid it no matter how ancient, solemn, or important the ritual might be to members of whatever faith wants to continue the practice.

In practical terms, the Jewish community has a good argument to overturn the ban on shechita. We can maintain that shechita is humane, and causes no more suffering to the animal than what’s done in non-Jewish slaughterhouses with stunning. As long as our ancient method of slaughter is still within the parameters of what’s currently considered moral, there is no reason for governments to disallow it. While the court was right about the law, it may have the facts wrong about shechita in this case.

But protesting that we’ve been doing shechita for thousands of years — and therefore we must have the right to continue — isn’t a winning argument. Opponents will point to countless religious teachings, ranging from regulations regarding how women must dress, to unequal treatment of women in divorce, and to acceptance of polygamy and slavery in the Bible, as examples of deeply rooted religious practices that must now be banned in the name of human rights.

The rabbi I mentioned earlier was partially correct in pointing to his Jewish bookshelf. The Jewish tradition does contain many teachings that are in keeping with human rights. But in fundamental ways, the two are vastly different.

We regard Jewish values as ancient, timeless, and perhaps even emanating from God. Human rights were only conceived of within the last century, and come from our ever-evolving vision of how to make the world more free and equitable for all members of the human race. Since their sources are so different, it’s inevitable that Judaism and human rights will sometimes clash.

If we are committed to both Judaism and human rights, we need to take these conflicts seriously. The Belgium law may have exaggerated the suffering caused by ritual slaughter, and therefore given us grounds to oppose it. But how we deal with other intractable conflicts between human rights and Jewish values is a key question that each person committed to both must struggle to answer.

Rabbi Shlomo Levin is the author of The Human Rights Haggadah, which highlights modern human rights issues in this classic Jewish text.

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