More than 300 students, faculty and alumni sign statement urging Penn to withdraw from Israel

Philadelphians march in a rally calling for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine on May 14, 2018. (Photo by Joe Piette | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Penn students against the occupation of Palestine issued a statement calling on the University to step aside and terminate contracts with companies complicit in the “illegal occupation of Palestine.”

On May 7, Israeli police raided al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites, prompting the Palestinian militant group Hamas to fire rockets at Jerusalem, according to the Washington Post. reported. Israel retaliated with airstrikes on Palestinian territory, and the fighting left more than 200 people killed in the Palestinian territory of Gaza and at least 10 killed in Israel.

PAO declaration, released on May 19, was signed by nearly 330 members of the Penn community, including Pennsylvania State Representative and 2013 engineering graduate Rick Krajewski, and 28 Penn groups and Philadelphia-based organizations. The statement demands that the university allow students to criticize Israel without censorship or punishment.

“The purpose of the statement is to get Penn to recognize Palestinian students and their human rights struggles,” said a college sophomore and PAO member, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals from students.

He added that the organization expects the statement to bring little institutional change from Penn, but hopes it will initiate discussions on Penn’s role in Israeli apartheid.

Holly Anderson, communications director for Rising Wharton junior and Penn Democrats, said the organization initially considered releasing its own statement, but decided to sign the PAO statement after a majority board consensus. She added that the statement helped the board find a way to voice its position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“A lot of club members, myself included, were unhappy with President Biden’s response to this matter,” Anderson said. “The statement was what we as a club thought was important to talk about, and signing this document was a tangible way to express our own views.”

Anderson added that Penn Dems hopes the statement will further raise awareness and educate members of the Penn community to form their own opinions.

“[The statement] will help people see that this is not a problem that is far from them, but rather one that they should know about and care about, ”she said.

Rising College and Wharton junior and Penn Hillel co-chair Avidan Baral said Hillel did not sign the statement because the organization feared the language used could lead to an increase in anti-Semitism.

“Parts of it we consider to be using very inflammatory language,” Baral said. “We have seen in the past how this can encourage people to turn violent.”

Baral added that supporting everyone, regardless of their stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is the organization’s priority right now.

sophomore at Rising College and organizer of Penn chavurah, a progressive Jewish organization, said the organization decided to sign the declaration because of its stance against human rights violations, noting that COVID-19 has exacerbated the human rights crisis in Palestine.

“To confuse Zionism with Judaism is a mistake,” said Wennberg. “The reason we decided to sign the declaration as a group is that we are neutral towards Zionism, but not towards human rights. We are witnessing a human rights problem at a time when [COVID-19] hits the Palestinian areas particularly hard.

Students and Penn organizations have disagreed about pro-Palestine advocacy in the past.

Penn Chavurah formed in January after progressive Jewish students were disappointed with Hillel. Hillel International prohibits its chapters, including Penn Hillel, from hosting groups or speakers who support the boycott or disengagement of the Israeli government.

In April, the Student Assembly indefinitely tabled a resolution for Penn to adopt a definition of anti-Semitism after critics of the resolution alleged the definition could censor criticism of Israel and advocacy for Palestinian rights.

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