‘The Israeli Jew Has Bastardized Judaism’: Pro-Palestinian Rally at UPenn Descends Into Antisemitism
A pro-Palestinian protest at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) descended into demagoguery and intimidation of Jewish students, as speakers berated pro-Israel counter-protesters in the wake of Hamas’ terrorist onslaught against Israel earlier this month.
Several Penn professors — including Margo Natalie Crawford, Eve Troutt Powell, Ania Loomba, Ahmad Almallah, and Huda Fakhreddine — attended and spoke at Monday’s protest, which was organized by Penn Against the Occupation (POA), a group headed by Fulbright scholar and Penn senior Leila Shadid. PAO describes itself on its website as “aimed at ending the occupation” and being against “antisemitic rhetoric.”
For roughly seven hours, the 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, 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 holding a counter-protest, MJ 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, “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.”
During the protest, an individual who The Algemeiner could not identify entered the campus and began tearing down missing persons posters of Israeli Jews whose status following Hamas’ invasion of Israel on Oct. 7 remains unknown. During the terrorist onslaught, Hamas took about 200 people back to Gaza as hostages.
The individual was arrested by Penn’s Division of Public Safety, according to The Daily Pennsylvanian, the university’s student newspaper. The report added that he shouted at the pro-Israel counter-protesters, “You can either leave us in peace or go back to Moscow and Brooklyn.”
The demonstration, The Daily Pennsylvanian added, was prompted by Penn President Elizabeth Magill issuing a statement on Sunday in which she condemned Hamas and apologized for being slow to disavow a “Palestine Writes Literature Festival” held on campus last month. The event featured several activists who promoted conspiracies about Jewish power and called for violence against Israel. Twelve professors, some of whom attended the demonstration, have sent Magill a letter criticizing her apology, according to the school’s student newspaper.
The university has seen a spike in antisemitic activity on campus this academic year. 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 giant swastika was graffitied in the basement of the university’s Stuart Weitzman School of Design.
On Monday, billionaire Ronald Lauder, a major financial backer of Penn, threatened to pull his funding from the school unless it does more to fight antisemitism.
“I know the conference has put a deep stain on Penn’s reputation that will take a long time to repair,” Lauder wrote. “You are forcing me to reexamine my financial support absent satisfactory measures to address antisemitism at the university.”
Addressing president Magill as “Liz,” he added, “You should know that this letter is written with the greatest sorrow … sorrow I never expected to encounter at Penn and one I don’t think I will ever get over. I’m sorry you did not cancel the event.”
The Lauder family’s philanthropic support for Penn goes back four decades. In 1983, Ronald and his brother Leonard founded the school’s Joseph H. Lauder Institute of Management & International Studies — named after their father — where graduate students can earn both a Wharton School master’s of business administration and a master’s in international studies.
The institute was mentioned in Monday’s letter, with Lauder saying that its students “will now be tainted by their school’s new reputation.”
Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.