Jewish students express concerns in response to encampment demands | The Triangle

Jewish students express concerns in response to encampment demands

Photo by Sam Gregg | The Triangle

Following the start of the Gaza Solidarity Encampment, which was established just after a documentary screening discussing the events of Oct. 7, Jewish students expressed concerns over the rhetoric used by protestors and demands by the Drexel Palestine Coalition to disband Jewish organizations on campus, including Hillel and Chabad.

Among the encampment’s many demands include terminating both Jewish organizations on Drexel campus, Hillel and Chabad. The coalition claims Hillel’s primary purpose is to “facilitate birthright trips to Occupied Palestine” and claim Chabad should be banned for “welcoming an ex-IOF soldier into the Drexel Community.”

The Jewish Studies Department hosted a screening of the documentary “Supernova” on Thursday, May 16. The documentary includes footage of and testimonies about the Nova Festival Massacre on Oct. 7, when 1200 Israelis were killed and over 240 hostages taken. The screening was followed by a discussion with Hannie Ricardo, whose daughter Oriya Ricardo was a victim of the massacre. Around 30 students, faculty and friends of the university attended the event at Drexel University’s Hillel Chapter.

Two days after the “Supernova” event, the Gaza Solidarity Encampment formed. Signs and chants at the encampment, which reportedly included “resistance is justified,” “globalize the intifada (revolution)” and “long live the student intifada,” caused some Jewish students to fear for their safety. 

When asked about the protest, product design major Adam Simler, a Jewish-Israeli student said, “After watching the Supernova documentary and speaking with the mother of a girl who was murdered, I was horrified to see signs stating ‘resistance is justified’ My family members were brutally murdered on Oct. 7 and my 8-year-old relative Emily Hand was taken hostage by Hamas. Signs like these make me fear every day for my safety as an Israeli and a Jew.”

Drexel student and president of Students Supporting Israel, Sammy Shiff shared, “The encampment in my opinion is outrageous and illegal. Keeping students from going to class and calling for an intifada—which is a call for dead Jews— is not only violent and not peaceful, but full on antisemitic.” 

Drexel Palestine Coalition did not get back to The Triangle for comment on the demand to terminate Hillel and Chabad. They responded to The Triangle via email with an updated “Communique” of the encampment’s disbandment. 

“Early in the morning of Thursday, May 23rd 2024, the Gaza Solidarity Encampment at Drexel University launched a strategic retreat from campus,” the Communique stated. 

“Many Jewish and non-Jewish students alike are scared and confused to see both student peers and non-student trespassers demanding for the termination of Hillel and Chabad, the only spaces where we feel safe to practice our religions and identities. I completely encourage free speech and peaceful protesting, but hate and intimidation cannot be tolerated,” shared Dan Soslowsky, student president of Drexel Hillel. 

In an email statement to the university community on Monday, May 20, President Fry wrote “encampment protesters have created a hostile, confrontational environment by subjecting passersby to antisemitic speech and by issuing several ‘demands’ that have unacceptably targeted individual members of our faculty and professional staff, a member of our Real Estate Advisory Committee, and two Jewish campus organizations (Chabad and Hillel).”

According to Drexel Hillel, their mission is to provide a “welcoming, inclusive Jewish community for students at Drexel” with the values of inclusion, respect, pluralism, integrity, and community.” 

The soldier with “horrific war crimes and human rights violations” referenced by the demands, refers to an ex-Israeli Defense Force soldier who visited campus on March 14 to share her story of how she survived the Nova festival massacre. She attended the festival after finishing her army service as a yoga instructor for soldiers. 

At both of the Oct. 7 memorial events, the attendees recited a prayer for safety and peace. 

Shiff shared that “the Jewish community wants there to be peace. We do not want the fighting.”

Soslowsky similarly shared “above all else, I want there to be peace… It’s just a matter of how to achieve that peace.”