Sheila Nazarian

When Silence Speaks Volumes: Antisemitism at Penn

When your enemy tells you who they are, listen. That’s one lesson the Jewish people have learned the hard way – another is that the world will hide its face from even the most blatant antisemitism if it is afraid enough of the antisemites. Two weeks before the massacre of the most Jews on a single day since the Holocaust on October 7, vicious opponents of the Jewish state and people of Jewish background were publicly hosted at a citadel of American academia, Benjamin Franklin’s University of Pennsylvania (“Penn”). The fact of the matter is that the speakers at the so-called Palestine Writes Literature Festival (“PWLF”) hosted by four Penn departments openly justified mass violence against Jews, and the administration stood by – is anyone surprised that unrebuked, antisemitism on campuses is spiraling?

The favored dodge of academics – that somehow anti-Zionism, the hatred of the Jewish state, is not connected to hatred of the Jewish people – has been laid bare with the Simchat Torah Massacre. Hamas terrorists didn’t just kill Israelis; they tortured 80% of the murdered. The thugs raped women and underage girls so violently that they shattered the victims’ pelvis. Small children’s legs and women’s breasts were cut off while they were alive. The terrorists cut the fetus out of a pregnant woman, killed the baby before her eyes, and only then murdered the mother. They deliberately targeted a music festival where they slaughtered at least 260 young dancers and mass-raped the women, taking many hostage to Gaza.

To understand killing this brutal and bizarre, we must understand the origins of the hate in a Palestinian education system that is rife with antisemitic conspiracies and sadistic incitement. The PWLF was an all too clear example. Hosted right next to the space where Jewish students were praying on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, and coming immediately after an attack on the campus Hillel, the conference appeared to declare open season on Jews on campus.

Just consider some of the comments that Penn allowed to be made at the festival. Dr. Salman Abu Sitta fantasized about making the Israeli Jews “live in cantons. We create three cantons, in which the majority of Jews are there… 88% of Jews in Israel [will] live in 12% of Israel.” Israelis were repeatedly compared to Nazis. Dana Dajani outrageously implied that Israeli soldiers celebrate the death of Palestinian children with the Hebrew toast “l’chaim,” meaning “to life.” Tom Suarez called Zionism a “cult” and a “psychosis” and implied that Jewish organizations fake well-established data about spiraling levels of antisemitism. Noura Erakat said that the fact that “the very people who had been dispossessed by the Jews should devise a solution based on sharing with these Jews rather than retaliatory … expulsion and revenge was a major concession that should have been acknowledged as such and applauded.”

Penn’s University Board Chairman, Scott Bok, insists that any “attempt to draw a connection between the PWLF with the heinous terrorist attack on Israel is shameful.” Yet, in fact, we are again learning the timeless lesson of totalitarianism – that people have to first imagine and speak the unimaginable before they can act it out. As Voltaire said, “Anyone who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” Indeed, after the October 7 attack, Penn’s silence was so shocking that former US Ambassador Jon Huntsman and leading entrepreneurs Marc Rowan and Ronald Lauder, among many others, are reconsidering future donations to the school.

Since the terror attack, we’ve seen that, sadly, what’s happening at Penn is far from unique as Jewish students in the United States and worldwide face a rising tsunami of antisemitism. At Cooper Union in New York, a small group of Jewish students was barricaded in the library for hours as at least a hundred pro-Hamas demonstrators banged on the door, chanting anti-Israel slogans. While Jewish students at Indiana University held a peaceful vigil for the dead and kidnapped, they were attacked by pro-Hamas students chanting genocidal slogans into megaphones. Hamas supporters at California State University in Long Beach advertised their gatherings with images of the paragliders that were used to cut down hundreds of young people at the Tribe of Nova music festival, where rape was then weaponized.

Killers often give signs before they commit their ultimate villainy, and escalating abuse is an all-too-familiar pattern. In the weeks since the terror attack, the academic establishment has shown that it’s willing to court controversy and even lose alumni donations rather than provide meaningful support to traumatized and grieving Jewish and Israeli students. At PWLF, the antisemites publicly incited violence, including by comparing Jews to Nazis and calling for herding Jews into cantons. After antisemitic violence was committed en masse, Hamas supporters on campus are openly gloating about it. University administrators must take immediate action by defunding every SJP chapter to protect Jewish students from SJP’s harassment and antisemitic violence.

We must ensure Students for Justice in Palestine does not have a platform any longer. The surge in antisemitism underscores the urgent need for university administrators to immediately defund SJP chapters and institute security measures to protect Jewish students from more violent antisemitic incidents.

About the Author
Dr. Sheila Nazarian is an Emmy Nominated, Board Certified Plastic Surgeon with a private practice in Beverly Hills. She founded the Nazarian Institute where she helps medical professionals develop their business skills by Thinking BIG – Branding, Innovation, Growth. Dr. Nazarian stars in the Emmy Nominated Netflix Original Series, Skin Decision: Before and After. She also enjoys being an influencer on social media, talking about Jewish identity and combatting antisemitism.