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Pro-Palestinian Academics Target University of Pennsylvania as School Launches Initiative to Combat Antisemitism

A swastika graffitied in the basement of the University of Pennsylvania’s Stuart Weitzman School of Design on Sept. 14, 2023. Photo taken by student.

Over 500 academics and writers have signed a petition lambasting the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) for suggesting that anti-Israel activism on campus amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war has been linked to antisemitism or harassment of Jewish students, accusing the school of fostering an “atmosphere of intimidation and Islamophobia” against Arabs, Palestinians, and Muslims.

The petition came as Penn launched a new task force to combat antisemitism amid recent incidents of antisemitic vandalism and anti-Israel protests that descended into demagoguery and intimidation of Jewish students.

“The university has failed to condemn — publicly, clearly, and consistently — the numerous episodes of harassment and intimidation directed specifically against Arab, Muslim, and Palestinian students and faculty,” the academics wrote in an open letter, citing a previous missive issued by the Penn branch of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). The AAUP letter did not mention any specific instances in which an Arab or Muslim faculty member or student was harmed, but it argued in part that the university’s recent efforts to temper extremist rhetoric in the classroom and around campus led to harassment and discrimination.

“There should be no place for injustice, racism, and hate, including anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian hate, at Penn,” the more recent statement read, arguing that Penn faculty members, students, and staff “are being falsely defamed, smeared, and maligned.”

“The university administration has repeatedly made public statements suggesting that the presence and activities of Palestinian and pro-Palestinian voices on the Penn campus are linked to antisemitism or harassment of Jewish students and faculty,” the petition added. “To be clear: we unequivocally oppose antisemitism, and we also stress — as many scholars of Jewish history and the Holocaust have — that supporting Palestinians under Israeli military occupation, siege, and attack and calling for justice and freedom is not antisemitism.”

The petition came a few days after Penn unveiled new details about its nascent antisemitism task force, which was formed in response to an explosion of antisemitic incidents on campus this year.

“Penn’s campus cannot and will not be comfortable or uncontested space for antisemitism,” Penn president Elizabeth Magill said in a statement while announcing the new committee’s membership. “The task force is critical to Penn’s commitment to counter this threat … I believe Penn can become a higher education leader in the fight against antisemitism, but it will take all of us working together to make a serious change.”

The task force — which is comprised of faculty, students, staff, alumni, and members of Penn’s Board of Trustees — is chaired by Mark Wolff, dean of the School of Dental Medicine.

Penn has been embroiled in controversy this academic year stemming from concerns over antisemitism. Last month, a pro-Palestinian protest on campus devolved into intimidation of Jewish students, as speakers berated pro-Israel counter-protesters in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist onslaught against Israel.

“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?” one speaker said at the protest, according to footage 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 holding a counter-protest, the speaker continued. “Israelis! Hello, Israelis! Look at me! If I asked you to give me one justification, it would be a lie, misinformed, or consumed in post 9/11 dogma. Ask yourself, Israelis: Do you want to continue living in this false narrative, this fairy tale, or do you want to actually talk to the people? That [Israeli] flag has murdered.”

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.”

Professor Eve Troutt Powell, who teaches history of the modern Middle East at the university, accused Israel of not learning “the lessons of the Holocaust” shouting at the demonstration, “That was the lesson! Never again! This now is never again!”

Professor Huda Fakhreddine, who teaches Arabic literature, added, “Israel is the epitome of antisemitism … it desecrates the memory of the Holocaust victims. It humiliates every Jewish person.”

Days later, members of Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi), a traditionally Jewish fraternity, discovered graffiti saying “The Jews R Nazis” on the door of a property next to their house. The campus’ Division of Public Safety was investigating the vandalism as a potential hate crime.

Before the war in Gaza, the university came under fire in September for refusing to cancel or move a “Palestine Writes Literature Festival” held on campus. The event, which caused outrage and heightened tensions across campus, featured several activists who promoted conspiracies about Jewish power and called for violence against Israel.

One day before “Palestine Writes” took place, an unidentified male walked into the university’s Hillel building behind a staffer and shouted “F—k the Jews” and “Jesus Christ is king!” before overturning tables, podium stands, and chairs, according to students and school officials who spoke with The Algemeiner.

Days earlier, just before the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah, a swastika was graffitied in the basement of the university’s Stuart Weitzman School of Design.

Major donors the school have threatened to pull funding from the school unless it does more to fight antisemitism, denouncing Magill for refusing to denounce the anti-Zionist festival.

Magill recently apologized and expressed regret for not promptly condemning the “Palestine Writes” event.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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South Dakota Passes Bill Adopting IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

Gov. Kristi Noem (R) speaking to legislators during the State of the State address on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024 at South Dakota State Captiol in Pierre. Photo: Samantha Laurey and Argus Leader via REUTERS CONNECT

South Dakota’s state Senate passed on Thursday a bill requiring law enforcement agencies to refer to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism when investigating anti-Jewish hate crimes.

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem (R) already adopted the definition, which has been embraced by lawmakers across the political spectrum, via executive order in 2021. This latest measure, HB 1076, aims to further integrate the IHRA’s guidance into law and includes the organization’s examples of antisemitism. It now awaits a vote by the state House of Representatives.

“As antisemitism continues to rise across America, having a clear and standardized definition enables a more unified stance against this hatred,” the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM), said in a statement. “We appreciate Governor Kristi Noem for making this legislation a policy goal of hers, strengthening the use of the IHRA Working Definition in South Dakota through legislation, following the December 2021 adoption via executive proclamation.”

CAM called on lawmakers in the lower house to follow the Senate’s lead and implored “other states to join the fight against antisemitism by adopting the IHRA definition, ensuring the safety and well-being of their Jewish residents.”

First adopted in 2005 by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism states that “antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” and includes a list of illustrative examples ranging from Holocaust denial to the rejection of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. The definition is used by hundreds of governing institutions, including the US State Department, European Union, and the United Nations.

Widely regard as the world’s leading definition of antisemitism, it was adopted by 97 governmental and nonprofit organizations in 2023, according to a report Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) Antisemitism Research Center issued in January.

Earlier this month, Georgia became the latest US state to pass legislation applying IHRA’s guidance to state law. 33 US States have as well, including Virginia, Texas, New York, and Florida.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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Columbia University Sued for Allowing Antisemitic Violence and Discrimination

Anti-Israel students protest at Columbia University in New York City. Photo: Reuters/Jeenah Moon

Columbia University allowed for antisemitism to explode on campus endangering the welfare of Jewish students and faculty, StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice and Students Against Antisemitism (SAA) alleges in a lawsuit announced on Wednesday.

Filed in the US District Court of Southern New York, the complaint recounts dozens of reported antisemitic incidents that occurred after Oct. 7 which the university allegedly failed to respond to adequately because of anti-Jewish, as well as anti-Zionist, bias.

“Columbia refuses to enforce its policies or protect Jewish and Israeli members of the campus community,” Yael Lerman, director of SWU Center for Legal Justice said on Wednesday in a press release. “Columbia has created a pervasively hostile campus environment in which antisemitic activists act with impunity, knowing that there will be no real repercussions for their violations of campus policies.”

“We decline to comment on pending litigation,” Columbia University spokesperson and vice president for communications told The Algemeiner on Friday.

The plaintiffs in the case accuse Columbia University of violating their contract, to which it is bound upon receiving payment for their tuition, and contravening Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. They are seeking damages as well as injunctive relief.

“F— the Jews,” “Death to Jews, “Jews will not defeat us,” and “From water to water, Palestine will be Arab,” students chanted on campus grounds after the tragedy, violating the school’s code of conduct and never facing consequences, the complaint says. Faculty engaged in similar behavior. On Oct. 8, professor Joseph Massad published in Electronic Intifada an essay cheering Hamas’ atrocities, which included slaughtering children and raping women, as “awesome” and describing men who paraglided into a music festival to kill young people as “the air force of the Palestinian resistance.”

300 faculty signed a letter proclaiming “unwavering solidarity” with Massad, and in the following days, Students for Justice in Palestine defended Hamas’ actions as “rooted in international law.” In response, Columbia University president Minouche Shafik, opting not to address their rhetoric directly, issued a statement mentioning “violence that is affecting so many people” but not, the complaint noted, explicitly condemning Hamas, terrorism, and antisemitism. Nine days later, Shafik rejected an invitation to participate in a viewing of footage of the Oct. 7 attacks captured by CCTV cameras.

The complaint goes on to allege that after bullying Jewish students and rubbing their noses in the carnage Hamas wrought on their people, pro-Hamas students were still unsatisfied and resulted to violence. They beat up five Jewish students in Columbia’s Butler Library. Another attacked a Jewish students with a stick, lacerating his head and breaking his finger, after being asked to return missing persons posters she had stolen.

More request to the university went unanswered and administrators told Jewish students they could not guarantee their safety while Students for Justice in Palestine held demonstrations. The school’s powerlessness to prevent anti-Jewish violence was cited as the reason why Students Supporting Israel (SSI), a recognized school club, was denied permission to hold an event on self-defense. Events with “buzzwords” such as “Israel” and “Palestine” were forbidden, administrators allegedly said, but SJP continued to host events whole no one explained the inconsistency.

Virulent antisemitism at Columbia University on the heels of Oct. 7 was not a one-off occurance, the complaint alleges, retracing in over 100 pages 20 years of alleged anti-Jewish hatred at the school.

“Students at Columbia are enduring unprecedented levels of antisemitic and anti-Israel hate while coping with the trauma of Hamas’ October 7th massacre,” SWU CEO Roz Rothstein said in Wednesday’s press release. “We will ensure that Columbia University is held accountable for their gross failure to protect their Jewish and Israeli students.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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University of California-Los Angeles Student Government Passes BDS Resolution

Graphic posted by University of California, Los Angeles Students for Justice in Palestine on February 21, 2024 to celebrate the student government’s passing an resolution endorsing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. Photo: Screenshot/Instagram

The University of California-Los Angeles student government on Tuesday passed a resolution endorsing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, as well as false accusation that Israel is committing a genocide of Palestinians in Gaza.

“The Israeli government has carried out a genocidal bombing campaign and ground invasion against Palestinians in Gaza — intentionally targeting hospitals universities, schools, shelters, churches, mosques, homes, neighborhoods, refugee camps, ambulances, medical personnel, [United Nations] workers, journalists and more,” the resolution, passed 10-3 by the UCLA Undergraduate Student Association Council (USAC), says, not mentioning that UN personnel in Gaza assisted Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7.

It continued, “Let it be resolved that the Undergraduate Student Association of UCLA formally call upon the UC Regents to withdraw investments in securities, endowments mutual funds, and other monetary instruments….providing material assistance to the commission or maintenance of flagrant violations of international law.

The days leading up to the vote were fraught, The Daily Bruin, the university’s official student newspaper reported on Wednesday.

“Non-UCLA students” sent USAC council members emails imploring them to vote for or against the resolution and USAC Cultural Affairs Commissioner and sponsor of the resolution, Alicia Verdugo, was accused of antisemitism and deserving of impeachment. The UCLA Graduate Student Association and University of California-Davis’ student government had just endorsed BDS the previous week, prompting fervent anticipation for the outcome of Tuesday’s USAC session.

Before voting took place, members of the council ordered a secret ballot, withholding from their constituents a record of where they stood on an issue of monumental importance to the campus culture. According to The Daily Bruin, they expressed “concerns” about “privacy” and “security.” Some members intimated how they would vote, however. During a question and answer period, one student who co-sponsored the resolution, accused a Jewish student of being “classist” and using “coded” language because she argued that the council had advanced the resolution without fully appreciating the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the history of antisemitism.

“As a Guatemalan, …my country went through genocide,” he snapped at the young woman, The Daily Bruin’s reporting documented. “My family died in the Guatemalan Mayan genocide. I understand. I very well know what genocide looks like.”

Other council members  voiced their support by co-sponsoring the resolution, which was co-authored by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a group that has held unauthorized demonstrations and terrorized Jewish students across the country.

Responding to USAC’s decision, Jewish students told the paper that they find the campaign for BDS and the attempts of pro-Palestinian students to defend Hamas’ atrocities myopic and offensive.

“How can anyone dare to contextualize since Oct. 7 without acknowledging that the Jewish people are victims of such a cataclysmic attack?” Mikayla Weinhouse said. “BDS intentionally aims to divide a community. Its supporters paint a complex and century-old conflict in the Middle East as a simplistic narrative that inspires hate rather than advocates for a solution.”

University of California-Los Angeles denounced the resolution for transgressing school policy and the spirit of academic freedom.

“The University of California and UCLA, which, like all nine other UC campuses, has consistently opposed calls for a boycott against and divestment from Israel,” the school said in a statement. “We stand firm in our conviction that a boycott of this sort poses a direct and serious threat to the academic freedom of our students and faculty and to the unfettered exchange of ideas and perspectives on this campus.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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