About 40 University of Pennsylvania students amassed at a nearby grocery store Sunday afternoon to purchase hummus as a counter-protest to Philadelphia BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) supporters who were stationed outside to lobby against the chickpea spread.
The scene was reminiscent of a similar demonstration BDS organized in October 2010 to launch a boycott of Tribe and Sabra hummus, claiming that the corporate parents of those brands support the Israeli Defense Forces and therefore "subsidize Israeli human rights abuses."
This time, however, they re-wrote lyrics to Christmas carols instead of a Lady Gaga hit to sing their point outside the Fresh Grocer at 40th and Walnut streets.
Freshman Shlomo Klapper said he was impressed that students came out on short notice during finals to oppose the boycott. He and a friend spread the word about what was happening via email on Saturday night after learning about the caroling on the Philly BDS website.
"This is the last thing I wanted to hear when I have three finals and not enough time to study," said Klapper, a 19-year-old from Teaneck, N.J.
Klapper is also working on plans to respond to an even bigger BDS event. In February, a new university BDS group, Pennbds.org, is planning to host a national conference for the movement. This will be much trickier, Klapper said, because "you can't just organize 50 students to walk and spend $5 of their money and a half-hour of their time."
In a statement sent to Penn Hillel alumni, parents and community supporters, Hillel of Greater Philadelphia's executive director, Rabbi Howard Alpert, and its president, Jeffrey Barrack, said they are urging university officials to ensure the conference does not receive school funding or create a hostile environment for pro-Israel students. Hillel staff will also work with students to set up discussions, Shabbat dinners and programs geared toward Israel advocacy, the letter said.
"The BDS movement is less about constructive ideas for building peace and more about delegitimizing the State of Israel," Alpert and Barrack wrote. "It applies a double standard that destroys the sophisticated civil discourse that is a core element of the mission of the University of Pennsylvania."
Stephen MacCarthy, vice president for university communications, said in a statement that the university is not sponsoring the event and has "clearly stated on numerous occasions that it does not support sanctions or boycotts against Israel."
However, he continued, "Penn has always supported free expression and the free exchange of ideas. These are essential elements of a great university. These principles apply to this event, as they would any other student event, whether or not we agree with or condone the message BDS seeks to communicate."