An “Israeli Apartheid Week” at the University of Pennsylvania held during the Passover holiday raised tensions on campus and prompted an angry op-ed — and subsequent responses — in the student newspaper.
“It does not go unnoticed that Penn Students for Justice in Palestine’s (SJP) event titled ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ was planned over the holiday of Passover, when many Jewish students are off campus or unable to mobilize an effective response due to religious obligations,” sophomore Ariela Stein wrote in the April 4 Daily Pennsylvanian.
But when the group was contacted via its Facebook page, an unnamed member denied via text message that SJP intentionally scheduled its events during the Jewish holiday.
“These claims are hurtful, dangerous and untrue,” the student wrote. “The dates for our events were chosen based on the availability of College Green for consecutive demonstrations, the availability of our guest speakers … and because of the recent violence against non-violent Palestinian protesters in Gaza.”
The unnamed SJP member was referring to the weekly mobilization of thousands of Palestianians near the border fence separating Hamas-controlled Gaza from Israel. When groups have disregarded Israeli warnings not to cross a buffer zone, with some of them resorting to violence, they have come under fire by Israeli troops protecting the border. The Israeli government has denied Palestinian claims of targeting defenseless civilians, insisting that many of the couple dozen killed have been armed terrorists, and international condemnation has been relatively muted.
“As for the timing of our events not allowing students to organize a response, first, we haven’t had an organized response to our Israeli Apartheid Week events in past years,” the student continued. “Second, we published our event schedule well in advance.”
Stein, who is a fellow with the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, said she never asserted that the apartheid week was deliberately planned for Passover, but said it was bad planning on SJP’s part.
“I was so upset there was only one narrative being portrayed,” she said.
Aside from her complaints about the SJP event, Stein, who is from Miami, attempts in her op-ed to debunk claims made by supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
“The fact that they didn’t condemn Hamas … is very upsetting,” she said, noting that Penn’s campus is largely pro-Israel and willing to debate the issues.
“Critical discourse on Israeli policy should take place, but not in the form of lies and half-truths,” Stein wrote in her op-ed. “Students who truly believe in justice should not buy into masked anti-Semitism presented as anti-Zionism. As French President Emmanuel Macron firmly stated, ‘We will yield nothing to anti-Zionism, because it is the reinvented form of anti-Semitism.’”
SJP denied that its organization is anti-Semitic.
“As an organization, SJP condemns anti-Semitism in the strongest possible terms,” its members wrote. “Our events critique Israeli policies … not Judaism or the Jewish community.”
Stein said the advent of Penn’s Spring Fling weekend had seemed to cause the controversy on campus to die down, but two new op-eds critical of Israel appeared in The Daily Pennsylvanian late last week.
On April 12, a junior named Carl-Emmanuel Fulghieri, who wrote that he is a French-born Jew, takes issue with Stein’s column.
“Ariela Stein’s column last week displays less an earnest desire to understand than a show of power, demanding parameters of discourse when her side already dominates effective speech,” he wrote. “Portraying SJP programming during Jewish holidays as cheap anti-Semitism is a bit ridiculous when every year representatives from across campus reaffirm the idealized connection between the United States and Israel.”
And on April 13, Ajjit Narayanan, a junior who said he is the SJP co-chair, checked in with an op-ed response to Stein. He again asserts that the organization is not anti-Semitic, but continues to criticize Israel.
“Our event last Tuesday sought to bring awareness to the ‘apartheid wall,’ erected between the West Bank and Israel, which allows further takeover of Palestinian land, as 85 percent of the wall does not lie along any internationally recognized borders,” he wrote.
Penn Hillel had several events this week planned in celebration of Israel’s 70th Yom Ha’atzmaut.