Penn Jewish Center Vandalized Ahead of University Conference Featuring Anti-Semites 

University of Pennsylvania (Wikimedia Commons)
September 21, 2023

A Jewish center at the University of Pennsylvania was vandalized Thursday morning, just a day before the university hosts an event that will feature speakers who have praised terrorism against Israel and maintain links to designated terror groups.

The Penn Hillel Center, which provides services to Jewish students on campus, was ransacked by "an unknown student" when it opened around 7 a.m. on Thursday, Rabbi Gabe Greenberg, the center’s executive director, told the Washington Free Beacon.

"As the door was opened, an unknown student ran into the building," Greenberg said in a statement. "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 Police soon apprehended the suspect after he fled the building. A police spokesman did not immediately respond to a Free Beacon request for further information.

The incident is certain to escalate fears among Penn’s Jewish and pro-Israel population ahead of a Friday event that will bring vociferous detractors of the Jewish state to campus. The confab, known as the Palestine Writes Festival, has been criticized by pro-Israel voices on campus for its ties to radical anti-Israel agitators and those with alleged links to terror groups.

While the university has condemned some of the speakers for their anti-Semitic rhetoric, it will host the event because of its commitment to "the free exchange of ideas," a university spokesman told the Free Beacon earlier this week.

Hillel executive director Greenberg said it is clear his building was intentionally picked by the vandal and that the timing of the incident is troubling.

"This person did not accidentally choose to enter our building," he 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. 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 was not a coincidence."

While there do not appear to be any links between the vandalism at Hillel and Friday’s event, tensions on campus had been running high among Jewish and pro-Israel students, a coalition of whom penned an open letter saying they are "concerned that the students will be exposed to anti-Jewish propaganda." Events of this nature, they wrote, "open the Jewish community at Penn to discrimination."

The speakers at Friday’s event include anti-Israel Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters, former Palestinian political prisoner Wisam Rafeedie who writes favorably about terror attacks on Israel, and Salman Abu Sitta, who sits on the advisory board of an Israeli-designated terror group. Others have endorsed violence against Israel, and malign the Jewish state’s supporters as "scum" and "filth."

Marc Lamont Hill will conduct a panel during the event. Hill, who was fired from a gig at CNN for advocating Israel’s destruction, has praised Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan as "my brother," and refused to distance himself from the prolific anti-Semite.

Another scheduled attendee, Refatt Alareer, is a professor at the Islamic University of Gaza. He often shares anti-Semitic materials on social media and lashes at out Zionists, who he has dubbed "the ugliest, unfunniest, and most untalented people on the globe," according to Camera, a pro-Israel watchdog group.

Miriam Elman, executive director of the Academic Engagement Network, a group that battles anti-Semitism on campus, said there is a noticeable uptick in attacks on Jews when campuses host events targeting Israel's legitimacy.

"When there’s sustained campaign of Israel hostility day in and day out," she said, "we do see instances of classic anti-semitism pop up." Penn's campus "has been roiling on this for three to four weeks now," so it is "not surprising that you get this kind of anti-Semitism that seems to track with the Israel hostility and anti-Zionism hostility." Elman's group has been pushing the school's administrators to publicly condemn the event and participate in counter-programming that will be more welcoming to Jewish and pro-Israel students.