Counter-protesters demand an end to pro-Palestine camp in Penn – NBC10 Philadelphia

Counter-protesters in support of the Jewish community gathered at the University of Pennsylvania on Thursday to demand an end to the ongoing encampment of pro-Palestinian activists on the school's campus.

On Thursday morning, members of the Israeli-American Council marched across Penn University's campus to call on school officials to end the ongoing protest against the war in Gaza. They said the protest “expanded into hate speech and threats” against the Jewish community.

Benjamin Abella, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said he has seen flags of “known terrorist groups” flying on the school's campus in recent days and knows students – including his own daughter – who have been harassed by members of the pro- Palestine camp.

“We do this because we love Penn and we love what it stands for: the proud Quaker tradition of tolerance,” Abella said Thursday.

Members of the counter-demonstration marched across campus Thursday morning to deliver Penn officials a petition that contained more than 3,000 signatures from people calling for an end to the ongoing encampment.

“The camp violated Penn policy. It has led to hate speech and threats, which is unacceptable,” Abella said.

He said the counter-protesters' efforts Thursday were intended to remind university officials of their obligation to ensure the safety of all students and faculty.

Abella said he wanted to make it clear that the group's goal was not against an activist's right to protest. Instead, he argued, the pro-Palestine protest allowed hate speech and threats against the Jewish community.

“We have a problem with that, hate speech and threats,” he said, noting he had heard calls calling for “intifada,” or armed struggle or violence, against the Jewish community. “We have a problem with that. Not with the protest itself.”

The encampment began a week ago, on Thursday, April 25, when 200 pro-Palestinian protesters marched through Center City in Philadelphia before settling into Penn to set up camp in front of College Hall.

The protest was one of many held at universities across the country calling for a ceasefire in Gaza amid the Israel-Hamas war.

Protesters are calling for an end to the conflict in Gaza and have called on their schools to stop all financial support from Israel.

Divestment usually refers to the sale of shares in companies that do business with a particular country. Divestment has long been a goal of a movement to limit what it sees as Israel's hostile operations and to end the expansion of what the United Nations says are illegal settlements in Palestinian territory.

On Friday, April 26, University of Pennsylvania Interim President J. Larry Jameson called for the encampment to be dismantled, saying it violated the university's facility policies.

In a letter, Jameson wrote that the “harassing and intimidating comments and actions” of some protesters violated the school's open expression policies and state and federal laws.

He also accused some of the protesters of vandalizing a statue with anti-Semitic graffiti, which he called “particularly reprehensible” and said it was “being investigated as a hate crime.”

Eyal Yakoby, a senior at the university, said at the school Thursday that Jewish students at the school are hoping for a response from the administration because they feel like they have been left in the dark since Jameson sent that letter.

“We hope it won't go any longer without getting a response and just telling the community what's going on on campus,” he said. “As students, we haven’t heard any news in a week about whether the campus will remain open or close, and that scares us.”

On Wednesday, a man poured an unknown liquid on food, tents and banners at the camp, police said.

The unidentified man was spotted on Wednesday, May 1, walking around the camp and spraying an unknown liquid on protesters' belongings.

The man was arrested by Penn Police minutes after the incident. Police said he could face harassment charges.

President Joe Biden also defended the right to protest on Thursday, but insisted that “order must prevail” as unrest rages on campuses across the country over the war in Gaza.

Rutgers University is just one of several schools across the United States that have seen protests in recent weeks. More than 2,000 people were arrested in pro-Palestinian protests on university campuses, while students stood firm. NBC10 political reporter Lauren Mayk has more as President Joe Biden weighs in on everything that's unfolding.

“We are not an authoritarian nation where we silence people or stifle dissent,” Biden said at the White House. “Indeed, peaceful protests are in the best tradition of Americans responding to controversial issues, but we are also not a lawless country.”

There is still no end in sight to the camp at the school.

A woman named Nneka A, who claimed to be a press liaison to the protesters at the camp – which they called “Freedom Camp” – told NBC10's Francis Wang that she has no intention of dismantling the camp any time soon.

“They’re not the only ones who can sign papers and submit things,” she said.

Instead, she said they had as much support as the counter-protesters and claimed that there were several Jewish members of her camp who also called for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Anna Harden

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