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A rally protesting antisemitism was held in front of College Hall on Dec. 7, just after Penn President Liz Magill has been under fire after testifying in Congress. Credit: Ethan Young

Around 40 Penn community members called for an end to antisemitism on campus and for President Liz Magill to step down in a rally on Thursday. 

Rally-goers gathered outside of College Hall, where Magill’s office is located, at 3:45 p.m. Penn community members held Israeli flags and signs that read “zero tolerance for antisemitism,” while chanting “no place for hate at Penn.”

The rally comes after Magill testified before the United States House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Tuesday, discussing the University’s response to antisemitism on campus. Over the following 24 hours, she was met with criticism from Penn community members and public officials, specifically for her statements regarding whether those who call for the genocide of Jewish people violate Penn’s policies — with several people calling for her resignation.

Dafna Ofer, a Penn Medicine physician, organized the Dec. 7 rally, which also coincided with the two-month marker since the Hamas' attack on Israel on Oct. 7. While speaking at the rally, Ofer specifically referred to Magill’s testimony on Tuesday, saying that her statement was “unspeakable” and Magill must understand the difference between freedom of speech and hate speech that leads to violence. 

The rally follows a now-viral exchange between Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Magill during the hearing.

Stefanik asked whether individuals who call for the genocide of Jewish people violate Penn’s policies or code of conduct, describing calls for "Intifada revolution" among some protestors on campus as calls for genocide of Jews.

“If the speech turns into conduct, it can be harassment,” Magill told Stefanik, later adding, “It is a context-dependent decision."

This response prompted Stefanik to continue probing.

“This is the easiest question to answer, 'yes,' Ms. Magill,” Stefanik said. “Conduct meaning committing the act of genocide? … This is unacceptable, Ms. Magill.”

Magill ultimately reiterated that calling for the genocide of Jews "can be harassment."

The University's "Free Speech FAQs" detail Penn's guidelines governing hate speech. These rules state that speech can only be disciplined by the University if "the inflammatory speech intentionally and effectively provokes a crowd to immediately carry out violent and unlawful action."

"Universities can invest their efforts and resources in educating their members and in creating spaces and contexts for productive dialogue, but they cannot legitimately punish members — students, staff, and faculty — who choose not to participate in those, or who profess bigoted and other hateful views," Penn's policy reads. "This is especially true in open and public spaces, like Locust Walk."

Magill released a video expressing regret about her remarks during the congressional hearings on Wednesday night. 

The Committee on Education and the Workforce also announced on Thursday the opening of a formal investigation into Penn as a result of the hearing, complete with subpoena power. Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, who is a non-voting member of the Board of Trustees, told reporters that Magill’s comments were “absolutely shameful.”

Tali Reiner Brodetzki, who is a professor at La Salle University and was previously a postdoctoral researcher at Penn, spoke at the rally on the importance of ensuring that each member of the Penn community feels safe on campus. 

“It's just appalling that the president of this University and other universities across the country can't say these words, can’t understand that hate speech and the call for killing of Jews is harassment of Jewish students, Jewish faculty,” Brodetzki said. “We need to make sure every student, every faculty member, every staff member feels safe from harassment and bullying when they come to work, when they come to study, when they come to the University campus. There is no context in which antisemitism is okay.”

Ofer was also unsatisfied with the apology video that Magill released, saying that “she had literally no emotion, and it wasn't made sincerely.” 

“I've never met my grandparents. My grandparents were murdered in the Holocaust. My grandparents and my uncle were murdered in a genocide — a genocide just like the one President Magill said it’s okay to call for as long as it’s not conduct,” Ofer said.

Wharton sophomore Abraham Franchetti said that Magill should resign as a result of the University’s inaction against threats towards Jewish students and the statements she made in her appearance in Congress. 

“I think that [Magill] needs to step down,” Franchetti said. “I feel supported by Penn Hillel and the amazing people there. I do not feel supported by the University administration.”

Bareket Daniel, a Penn postdoctoral student and one of the organizers of the protest, agreed. She told the DP that Magill has failed as a president. 

“We need a leader,” she said. 

Betty-Ann Soiefer Izenman, a 1977 College graduate and speaker at the rally, also said that Magill should resign, describing Magill as "an embarrassment to this University."