On Monday, October 16th, University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) professors and students staged a walkout to “protest the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Gaza.” These protests were covered by both the university’s student newspaper, the Daily Pennsylvanian (DP), and by the Philadelphia Inquirer. Both articles focused on the protest’s criticism of Penn’s donors and glossed over much of the rhetoric used by the protesters. Neither piece gave space to substantive criticism of the event, despite the fact that I shared such criticism with the editor of the DP when asked for comment.
The reader should also note that the same professors and students are planning another “vigil and walkout” on Wednesday 10/18 at 12pm in the center of UPenn’s campus to “protest the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Gaza” and to “mourn and honor our martyrs.”
After reading the DP’s editorial on Tuesday morning, I thought that a significant portion of the story and my perspective on it were omitted. After sharing my disappointment with the co-author of the editorial who had asked me to comment, I submitted an opinion article portraying my perspective to the DP. The opinion editor refused to publish the piece without qualification, but encouraged me to reach out to other publications if I was interested in publishing the article. What follows is the article that I submitted to the DP, lightly edited for grammar and clarity:
The recently published Daily Pennsylvanian article presents a bowdlerized and politically correct version of yesterday’s pro-Palestine rally. It deceptively portrays the pro-Israel presence at the event as “interrupting the speakers on several occasions” and also cites me selectively, excising my opinion of the event, which was the bulk of what I shared with the Daily Pennsylvanian journalist who asked me to comment.
In this article, I will share many statements made at the event which are more controversial than the “free, free Palestine” cheer quoted by the DP. First, however, I will state my opposing position clearly:
I am a proud Zionist, and I disagree with the position that Zionism is illegitimate, racist, colonialist, oppressive, antisemitic, or that it distorts and takes advantage of the memory of the Holocaust.
I disavow the moral equivocation between the terrorist organization Hamas and the Israeli Defense Forces. I reject the insinuation that terrorism, including mass murder, kidnapping, and blackmail is justified or expected as a result of Israel’s actions in Gaza and the West Bank.
As far as I know, I am the one referred to as “interrupting the speakers on several occasions.” Let me provide context. After hearing event organizer and UPenn English Professor Ahmad Almallah say,
“When for 17 years, a piece of earth was removed from the world, only to sustain the slow murder of its jailed population … its mothers who have been giving birth to human animals, according to the other side. SHAME!”
And hearing the crowd respond with a raucous cry of “SHAME!” I approached Professor Almallah to dispute his characterization of the IDF as murderers. The event organizers were not interested in a conversation. They pushed me away, saying that it was not my place to be there, to the jeering chants of “free, free Palestine” from Professor Almallah and the crowd. Afterwards, I remained and listened for another half hour, without interrupting. (For much of the time I was chanted at incessantly by one attendee, who was eventually asked to stop by event organizers.) Eventually, when I realized that UPenn professors and students were planning to spend hours publicly decrying Israel as “genocidal,” I decided that it was necessary to create a nonviolent, nondisruptive pro-Israel counter-presence.
Before listing many of the things said at the event not covered in the DP’s editorial, I will mention another journalistic omission. While the DP mentioned that we were “holding Israeli flags,” showing our Zionism, they neglected to mention that we were also holding news headlines and pictures of Hamas terrorists taking Israeli hostages, often bloodied, to Gaza. This is an important detail, as it belies any attempt at moral equivocation between the IDF and Hamas.
What follows are quotes from UPenn professors, students, and visiting speakers said publicly at the event, often to applause. I do not have video evidence of most of these. While I live-texted these quotes to the DP’s co-editor, none were included in the editorial. I attest that I am representing these quotes accurately; the reader must take me at my word.
First, Professor Almallah repeatedly led the crowd in cheers of “from the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free,” and “resistance is justified, when you are occupied.” The former implies a desire for a Palestinian state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and, consequently, the erasure of the State of Israel entirely. The latter seems to justify Palestinian terrorism without qualification, be it bombing civilians on buses or murdering entire families in Israeli villages. The speaker representing Student Socialists cried for “Intifada.” This term recalls the First and Second Intifadas of 1987-1993 and 2000-2005, in which Palestinian terrorists attacked Israeli citizens with Molotov cocktails and suicide bombings. All of these cheers were repeated in the event’s march around campus, as recorded in this video.
One speaker said that “Zionism is racism,” and “the only solution is a one state solution from the River to the Sea.” Another, a student speaking under the pseudonym, “Kim,” and claiming to be a “Palestinian Jew,” said that “Zionism is the most violent form of antisemitism today.” Addressing the Jews assembled behind the protest supporting Israel, he said, “You can either leave us in peace or go back to Moscow and Brooklyn.”
Another speaker said, “If you care about the people brutally murdered by Hamas, think about what it means for Israel to do that to Palestinians every single day.” He then said that “supporting Israel will only lead to more terrorism.” UPenn Professor Fatemeh Shams said that “as long as the fascist Netanyahu regime exists, Hamas has a right to exist.”
At one point, a speaker turned his attention to the pro-Israel group and said, “brothers and sisters on the other side, I welcome you to Palestine, as long as no one is excluded.” There were also speakers, including UPenn Professor of Arabic Literature Huda Fakhreddine, who claimed that Israel was “desecrating the memory of the Holocaust.”
I vouch that I have represented these quotes accurately where I have not been able to provide video documentation. The reader should decide, and “let the truth show its way” (Maimonides, Commentary on Mishnah Avot).
One positive note is that there were some people, including one Palestinian, who engaged in respectful conversation with myself and my friends during the rally. After the rally, I approached the professors and had a respectful conversation with Professor Shams. Such dialogue should only continue, and may we know peace without end.