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Student Detained Over an Antisemitic Episode at the University of Pennsylvania

The University of Pennsylvania (Penn), one of America’s most prestigious institutions of higher education, was struck by an antisemitic incident of vandalism and harassment on Thursday, just one day before the school is set to host an anti-Zionist festival featuring several activists who have promoted conspiracies about Jewish power and called for violence against Israel.

On Thursday morning, an unidentified male walked into the university’s Hillel building behind a staffer and shouted “F___ 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. The perpetrator has been apprehended by campus police.

In a written statement, Penn Hillel initially described the perpetrator as a student before changing the wording to “an unknown member of the campus community.”

“As the door was opened, an unknown student ran into the building,” Penn Hillel said. “He stayed for less than a minute, and while he was in the building he knocked over several pieces of furniture, while shouting antisemitic obscenities about Jewish people.”

Penn Hillel went on to argue the timing and location of the incident were not coincidental.

“This person did not accidentally choose to enter our building,” the statement said. “He did not accidentally choose to shout antisemitic slogans. He chose our building. He chose to do so just three days before Yom Kippur [the holiest day in Judaism]. He chose to do so one day before a number of speakers are coming to campus who have histories of making antisemitic and hate-filled statements against Jews. This is not a coincidence.”

Rabbi Levi Haskelevich of the Penn Chabad-Lubavitch House, who arrived at the scene moments after it took place, told The Algemeiner that the perpetrator is known to suffer from mental health issues. He added that this is not the first antisemitic incident at Penn this month, noting that on Sept. 14, one day 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.

The incident prompted a response from Frederick Steiner, the design school’s dean, who described it as “disgraceful,” “cowardly,” and “abhorrent.” The school’s campus newspaper did not report on the story.

The two acts of hate occurred amid outcry from Penn’s Jewish community and outside activists over the school not moving or canceling the upcoming “Palestine Writes Literature Festival,” which is set to take place at Penn from Friday to Sunday. The event is sponsored by the university’s Wolf Humanities Center — which is described on its social media as “Penn’s gateway to the humanities, where the public and academy celebrate their common stake in the thinking arts”” — and its Department of Cinema and Media Studies.

Middle East experts and nonprofit leaders told The Algemeiner last week that the event is an “Israel hate fest” and noted that City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center professor Marc Lamont Hill, a former associate of Louis Farrakhan who has accused Israeli police of training American officers to kill Black people, will be speaking there.

Another speaker listed on the festival’s itinerary, Palestinian researcher Salman Abu Sitta, 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.”

Roger Waters, the former Pink Floyd frontman, is also a scheduled speaker. In recent years he has made comments about “Jewish power” and compared Israel to Nazi Germany. In May, during a concert held in Berlin, he performed in what looked like a Nazi SS officer uniform. A projection that played during the concert also compared Holocaust victim Anne Frank to Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh — who was accidentally shot and killed last year while covering an Israeli military raid in the West Bank — and the show was deemed as “deeply offensive to Jewish people.”

Islamic University of Gaza professor Refaat Alareer — who said in 2018, “Are most Jews evil? Of course they are.” — was initially scheduled to speak. However, StopAntisemitism, a nonprofit organization that tracks antisemitic incidents and hate crimes around the world, reported last week that Alareer had been removed from the speakers’ lineup.

The festival itinerary includes a host of other speakers who have praised terrorism against Israel and spoken out against Zionism.

Penn Hillel said in a recent open letter that it has three goals for the “Palestine Writes” event: a guarantee that Jewish students will not be forced to attend the festival against their will, the exclusion of speakers “who espouse explicit anti-Jewish hate,” and the removal of Penn branding from the event as well as the issuance of statements condemning the “antisemitic backgrounds” of certain speakers.

Speaking to The Algemeiner, Jewish and anti-hate groups expressed frustration with Penn for allowing the event to continue on campus as planned.

“Hate breeds hate,” said Liora Rez, founder and executive director of StopAntisemitism. “This underscores the urgency for [Penn] President Magill to relocate the upcoming panels featuring antisemitic speakers from campus this weekend. Do we really have to wait until someone is harmed before she takes action?”

Jacob Baime, CEO of the Israel on Campus Coalition, added: “The incident at Penn this morning is outrageous. The administration must swiftly condemn this antisemitism and do more to protect Jewish students. It is no surprise to see Jews attacked on campus the same week Penn is hosting a radical anti-Israel hate fest.”

Meanwhile, Rabbi Haskelevich said Penn’s Jewish community is still making efforts to foster education, friendship, and healing, despite the situation.

In response to the “Palestine Writes” festival, Penn’s Hillel and Chabad will host their own gatherings on Friday — a “Shabbat Together Event” and a “Proud Jew Shabbat,” respectively — to which both Jews and non-Jews are invited.

Rabbi Haskelevich told The Algemeiner that the events are “united” and will include a giveaway of mezuzahs to anyone who wants one. However, he also noted extra security measures will be implemented moving forward to ensure safety for those attending future events.

“Overall, we live in times where Jews have the ability to positively define for themselves what being Jewish means, and not merely as a reaction to anti-Jewish hatred. Indeed something which was more difficult in previous generations,” he said. “There are still incidents that rear the ugly head of anti-Jewish hatred and they must be nipped in the bud. The manner in which we will do so is by showing up to positively express our Jewishness proudly.”

Source: https://www.algemeiner.com/2023/09/21/antisemitic-vandalism-hits-university-of-pennsylvania-as-it-prepares-to-host-anti-zionist-festival/