Two University of Pennsylvania Students Were Arrested Over Anti-Semitic Incidents. The School Won't Say Whether They Faced Disciplinary Action.

Tara Tarawneh (screenshot)
January 15, 2024

In the weeks before and after Hamas's Oct. 7 attack on Israel, two University of Pennsylvania students were arrested in anti-Semitic incidents that shook the Philadelphia campus. One stormed into the Penn Hillel building, yelled "F—k the Jews," and destroyed furniture. Another stole an Israeli flag from an apartment near campus.

Both incidents generated media attention, and the school released a lengthy statement addressing the Hillel intrusion the day after it occurred. "We unequivocally condemn such hateful acts. They are an assault on our values and mission as an institution and have no place at Penn," then-university president Liz Magill said in a statement. "We are unwavering in our commitment to ensuring our Jewish community feels safe and supported on our campus."

What Penn will not say is what, if any, disciplinary action the students faced and whether they remain students at the Ivy League school. A spokesman for the University of Pennsylvania did not respond to a request for comment.

The incident at Penn Hillel occurred on Sept. 21, and the student was arrested by campus police. Penn has refused to identify the culprit behind the Penn Hillel incident, referring to the intruder in a statement as an "individual" who "was determined to be in crisis." The intruder is in fact a male student at Penn, a Penn Hillel spokesperson told the Washington Free Beacon. The school's Division of Public Safety, which oversees the campus police, told the Free Beacon that it could not disclose the name of the anti-Semitic intruder or comment on his enrollment status, because "no individual has been criminally charged."

The second incident occurred on Oct. 28, when 20-year-old student Tara Tarawneh allegedly stole an Israeli flag from a Campus Apartments house before speaking at an anti-Semitic rally in downtown Philadelphia, where she recounted feeling "so empowered and happy" as Hamas's assault on the Jewish state unfolded. Tarawneh was arrested on Nov. 4 for the theft.

Penn has also remained silent on Tarawneh's case. The school on Nov. 11 confirmed the Ivy League junior's arrest and status as a Penn student, but it has given no update on the matter since.

Campus sources, meanwhile, say Tarawneh has avoided disciplinary action. Tarawneh "remains a student at Penn and was back in class by Nov. 28," according to a December court filing, while the New York Post reported that she "was still attending class" as of Dec. 9.

Penn's silence on the two high-profile incidents raises questions about the school’s stated commitment to combating anti-Semitism and to holding the perpetrators accountable. It comes as the school grapples with a lawsuit and congressional investigation related to its handling of campus anti-Semitism, an issue that forced the mid-December resignation of Magill.

Magill's resignation came in the wake of a high-profile congressional hearing during which she told lawmakers that calls for "intifada" against Jews were protected by academic freedom and followed the departure of several top-dollar donors, who expressed outrage over the school's response to Hamas's Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Magill's interim replacement, Penn medical school dean J. Larry Jameson, after the hearing penned a letter to the Penn community in which he condemned "calls for genocide" and pledged to eliminate "hateful actions based on race, religion, identity, or nationality." Jameson made no mention of Jewish students, some of whom say they fear for their safety on campus.

In a December court filing, Penn senior Eyal Yakoby—who is suing the school for creating a "pervasively hostile education environment" for Jews—cited Tarawneh's return to class as proof that Penn "has chosen to not only ignore but exacerbate" anti-Jewish discrimination.

"Penn, the historic 300-year-old Ivy League university, has transformed itself into an incubation lab for virulent anti-Jewish hatred, harassment, and discrimination," Yakoby said in the filing. "Among other things, Penn enforces its own rules of conduct selectively to avoid protecting Jewish students from hatred and harassment."

While Tarawneh's Oct. 28 speech generated headlines—the Penn junior praised Hamas's "glorious" attack, said she felt "so empowered and happy" on Oct. 7, and urged rally attendees to take "to the streets"—her anti-Semitic activism was known on campus prior to the ordeal.

Tarawneh wrote a Sept. 14 column in the Daily Pennsylvanian, Penn's student-run newspaper, defending the anti-Semitic Palestine Writes festival. A number of university departments sponsored the event, which brought prominent anti-Semites, such as former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters, to campus. Waters has referred to Jews as "kikes," worn Nazi uniforms on stage, and emblazoned Jewish stars on inflatable pigs.

Tarawneh used her column to dismiss backlash over the festival, which she wrote was "spurred by colonial racism." Palestinian and Arab "voices," Tarawneh argued, often "suffer from either extensive exclusion and censorship, or exploitative tokenization," prompting the need for such an event.

"The objection from detractors of Palestine Writes is that the festival will make Jewish students feel unsafe, even frightened of wearing kippah or other religious adornments," she wrote. "This is an old, colonial narrative that posits Indigenous peoples as inherently violent, irrational, dark savages, which I will not dignify with a response. But I must say how disappointing and demoralizing it feels to know that the university has not challenged such racist assertions."

Tarawneh is a 2020 graduate of King's Academy, a boarding school in Madaba, Jordan. While it's unclear if her citizenship status has affected Penn's response to her theft arrest, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has admitted to going easy on anti-Semitic foreign students, citing "serious concerns about collateral consequences for the students, such as visa issues."

In the Penn Hillel case, meanwhile, the school said the anti-Semitic intruder was suffering from a mental health "crisis" and "was quickly and safely removed and referred for medical evaluation." While Penn assured students its Division of Public Safety was "actively pursuing" the incident, it has not provided an update since late September.

Other Ivy League schools have remained tight-lipped about viral instances of campus anti-Semitism.

At Harvard University, for example, two graduate students who attended an anti-Israel "die-in" protest held on campus—Ibrahim Bharmal and Elom Tettey-Tamaklo—were filmed shoving and accosting a first-year Israeli business school student. Harvard in November pledged it would "address the incident through its student disciplinary procedures" but since then has not revealed how it is doing so. A lawsuit filed against Harvard on Thursday alleges that both students remain in good standing with the school.

"Harvard has not imposed any discipline on Bharmal and has done nothing to sanction Tettey-Tamaklo other than relieving him of his proctor duties," the suit says.

Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidate Dave McCormick, who called on Penn to fire Magill after her congressional testimony, said the Philadelphia school should use its leadership shake-up to "get serious" about campus anti-Semitism.

"President Liz Magill's firing is just the beginning," McCormick told the Free Beacon. "Penn administrators should heed the warning and get serious about standing up to anti-Semitic hate."