Around 300 Penn community members and alumni rallied in support of Israel on Friday, emphasizing the strength of the Jewish community while also criticizing the Penn administration’s response to antisemitism on campus.
Attendees gathered at the Split Button at 1 p.m. on Nov. 3 to hear speeches from Penn students and professors before marching on Locust Walk to continue the event outside Penn Hillel. Rally-goers held Israeli flags, signs of citizens kidnapped by Hamas, and posters in support of Israel. A similar event to show support for Israel was held on campus two weeks ago.
Wharton junior Jaclyn Josephson, an organizer of the rally, began the event by thanking those who support Israel, the release of hostages, and the Israel Defense Forces.
“We are here to gather as a community against antisemitism,” Josephson said.
On Wednesday, President Liz Magill announced a University-wide action plan to combat antisemitism. Although some students praised Magill's efforts, others have said they remain skeptical of the plan’s impact and believe that the Penn administration should still be doing more to support Jewish and Palestinian communities on campus.
College senior Eyal Yakoby expressed his outrage with the Hamas attack and recent antisemitic rhetoric on campus.
“Rather than our community coming together to support one another and rejecting evil that has not sprouted since the Holocaust, our community is more polarized than ever,” Yakoby told rally-goers.
Yakoby spoke about individuals who have torn down flyers posted around campus of civilian hostages taken by Hamas.
On Oct. 16, an individual was seen tearing down posters of Israeli hostages and pushing a bystander at a counter-demonstration to a pro-Palestinian rally. The individual was taken into custody. DPS later confirmed that the individual — who is not affiliated with Penn — was charged with simple assault and disorderly conduct.
“We will never forget about the hostages; we will never forget about the 1500 innocent civilians butchered by Hamas; we will never forget about the 6 million," Yakoby said. "We will always continue to exist."
Rally-goers distributed pictures of hostages in the form of stickers instead of flyers during the demonstration. As they marched down Locust Walk to Penn Hillel, they chanted “Set them free,” and sang “Am Yisrael Chai.”
Outside of Penn Hillel, Wharton MBA first-year and 2017 College graduate Zach Griff explained in his speech how the atmosphere surrounding the Jewish community on campus has drastically changed since his time as an undergraduate student, from a place of comfort with his Judaism at Penn to discomfort.
"[O]ver the past three months in West Philadelphia, I've unfortunately learned that Penn has profoundly changed," Griff said. "So much so that while the physical sites might be the same, the atmosphere on campus could not be more different.”
Griff said that in the days since the Oct. 7 attack, the rhetoric from both students and faculty leaders was deeply worrying for the future of Jewish students at Penn.
On Oct. 18, following recent rallies in solidarity with Israel and Palestine, Magill addressed the Penn community in statement, saying that "hateful speech has no place at Penn."
"In this tragic moment, we must respect the pain of our classmates and colleagues and recognize that our speech and actions have the power to both harm and heal our community," she wrote. "We must choose healing, resisting those who would divide us and instead respect and care for one another."
College psychology professor Michael Kahana, who spoke at the rally, drafted with two other Penn professors a letter recognizing that Israel is “not only entitled but obligated to defend itself with strength and determination."
The letter, which calls the current war an “involuntary war for Israel prompted by a brutal terrorist attack,” now has about 300 signatures.
“There are many on the faculty who stand with you against antisemitism,” Kahana said at the rally.
Attendees sang Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem, together to close the event.
Wharton MBA first-year Talya Yoshpe, who is from Israel, told the DP it was difficult to comprehend "the level of hatred" and fear of speaking up on campus at events like Friday's rally.
"[W]e need to come here week after week and empower people who do feel brave enough to leave their homes and come here with a hope that going forward next week, more people will come and join us, because that's all we have," she said.
Yoshpe said that while she thinks the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine is very complex, she views herself as an informed citizen of Israel that can criticize and condemn her own government. However, she said that she felt the Penn administration should have responded more strongly to the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks.
"This is a terror attack that was intended to murder civilians, innocent civilians, of all ages, without discriminating between women and children and elderly and men," she said.
College senior Ariella Linhart, who also spoke at the rally, said after the event that she is proud to be a part of this community that composes itself with "grace and strength" and does not call for violence or hatred. She added that she is proud that her community values building each other up more than anything else.