I am a Jewish alumna of Penn’s Class of 2015. While an undergraduate, I served as class president for four years and was the first woman in Penn’s history to do so.
I cannot remain silent as I witness President Liz Magill censoring and failing to protect the Palestinian, Muslim, and Arab students who are calling for a ceasefire. By actively stifling this student movement at one of the world’s most powerful universities, Magill is complicit in Israel’s unfolding genocide of Palestinians.
Over the past five weeks, more than 11,000 Palestinians have been brutally killed at the hands of Israeli military violence. Israel has bombed hospitals, ambulances, schools, and refugee camps with bombs that cumulatively weigh more than those dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, during World War II. While deadly explosives have rained onto the people of Gaza, Israel has simultaneously cut their access to food, water, medical supplies, electricity, phone service, and breathable air.
Amongst the dead are thousands of babies and children, journalists killed on the job, health care workers murdered while treating the injured, and entire families wiped out while sheltering in their homes.
Jewish people know painfully well from our own history that what is happening in Gaza amounts to genocide. It is no surprise that thousands of Jews have responded to the escalating US-backed Israeli military violence against Palestinians by taking to the streets to demand a ceasefire.
Across the United States, thousands of us have shut down government buildings, public transit stations, highways, congressional offices, and, yes, even the Statue of Liberty. Hundreds of Philadelphia Jews shut down 30th Street Station this month. This week, Philadelphia rabbis demanded a ceasefire in front of the United States Capitol Building. On Monday, police arrested over 470 of us during the largest Jewish act of civil disobedience in California's history, and today hundreds of protestors shut down the Bay Bridge during Biden's visit to San Francisco.
Even amidst irrefutable evidence that astounding numbers of Jews stand with Palestinians in condemning Israeli apartheid and settler colonial violence, Magill has released statements and initiatives that falsely portray our diverse Jewish community as a Zionist monolith.
Magill’s claims that “combating antisemitism” is what motivates her consistent sidestepping of the plight of Palestinians ring hollow at a time when a multitude of Jewish people have organized en masse to make it abundantly clear that our solidarity lies with the people of Palestine and the struggle for justice everywhere.
Since Oct. 7, Magill has spoken out again and again about antisemitism and condemned the killing of Israelis without restraint. But while bombs have poured down on Gaza by the thousands, taking 10 times more Palestinian lives than Israeli lives, Magill has hardly mentioned Palestinians in her statements — neither those in Palestine nor those on Penn’s campus.
Magill has gone so far as to label antiwar slogans like “Let Gaza Live” and “Free Palestine” as — in her own words — “vile, antisemitic messages.” She has done so despite the fact that the efforts to project those slogans onto campus walls included Jewish students. Her purported concerns about antisemitism are not informed by fair and representative conversations with the Jewish community. They are, to the contrary, a thinly veiled attempt to cow down to wealthy donors at the expense of the entire Penn community.
Magill’s initiative to “[combat] antisemitism” will do nothing to bolster the fight against antisemitism, because it is not designed to. It is designed instead to scale out the systemic censorship, harassment, and demonization of Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim students under the guise of combating bigotry. The use of falsities and generalizations about Jewish identity to advance a political agenda that countless Jews vehemently oppose — is an act of antisemitism in and of itself.
I have watched in horror and shame as Magill’s response to the violence following Oct. 7 has had real and devastating consequences: Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim students and faculty — who had already been experiencing intimidation and censorship at Penn for acts as simple as celebrating Palestinian culture — have endured increased Islamophobia and racism.
Palestinian and allied students and faculty alike have been threatened, harassed, surveilled, and even arrested for exercising their right to protest. Students and faculty working to combat the increased Islamophobia and racism on campus have been, instead of supported, subjected to death threats and targeted doxxing and defamation campaigns. At a University that prides itself on its championing of human rights, the courageous young people at the helm of the student movement to resist a genocide have been vilified, demonized, and admonished instead of embraced.
Magill’s insistence on stifling and sabotaging student efforts to ring the alarms about this genocide makes Magill complicit in it. Magill's choice to amplify the voices of donors and to silence the voices of students — her choice of profit over human life — will define her legacy.
I urge Magill to discontinue the institutionalized weaponization of antisemitism to silence Palestinian and pro-Palestinian voices. I urge that any initiative to “combat antisemitism” be accompanied by an equitably resourced initiative to combat Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism, with directly impacted students and faculty platformed as leading voices. I urge Magill to affirm her students’ right to freedom of speech. I urge her to protect the courageous students of conscience instead of endangering them. I urge Magill to use her power to demand an end to this genocide instead of fueling it.
Until she does so, I cannot in good faith continue to engage as a Penn alumna in any manner other than in protest.
ARIEL KOREN was Penn’s Class of 2015 President and is an anti-Zionist Jew who quit Google in protest of the company’s military contract with Israel; she is the founder of Respond Crisis Translation, a rapid-response language justice collective. Her email is email@example.com.