Pro-Hamas encampment at University of Pennsylvania grows larger

Anti-Israel protesters are demanding the university divest from Israel and that the administration will grant amnesty to students who have violated the school’s code of conduct.

By Dion J. Pierre, The Algemeiner

Masses of new people have joined a pro-Hamas “encampment” at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) following an impasse in negotiations between the administration, students, and faculty over whether the school will divest from Israel and grant amnesty for those who have violated the school’s code of conduct — a key demand the protesters have put forward in exchange for ending the nearly three-week-long demonstration.

A crush of people on Wednesday “expanded” the encampment to cover more school property after conversations with the administration stalled, according to The Daily Pennsylvanian, a campus newspaper. Local police equipped with riot gear prepared to clear them from the area but ultimately stood down for reasons that remain unclear.

Following this escalation, Penn increased security in other areas of campus and has, for now, declined to ask police for help in quelling the demonstration. In the interim, Van Pelt Library’s main entrance has been made inaccessible to students and no one, including Jewish students and staff, is allowed to enter the Penn Hillel building, the campus newspaper reported.

“Penn continues to focus on the safety of our campus, including expanding security presence in response to the expansion of the encampment, despite our efforts to resolve this situation,” the university said in a statement issued on Wednesday night.

The development came just a day after Penn’s interim president, Larry Jameson, suggested that the demonstrators have exhausted the school’s tolerance for a situation that Jameson described as dangerous and disruptive of university business. He explained that in addition to being a safety hazard, the pro-Hamas mob has committed acts of vandalism, defacing a statue of Benjamin Franklin, one of the United States’ Founding Fathers, and “The Button,” a sculpture built in the early 1980s.

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“The encampment should end. It is in violation of our policies, it is disrupting campus operations and events, and it causing fear for many in our large, diverse community, especially among our Jewish students,” Jameson said in a statement. “But any response to the encampment must balance possible escalation of the current situation with the need to protect the safety and rights of everyone.”

Jameson then expressed fear about what would happen during a clash between police and protesters, explaining that Penn is “an open campus in a large city.” However, he added, “I am distressed and disappointed by the actions of the protesters, which violate our rules and goals.”

The administration has been negotiating with students and faculty leading the protest for several days, The Daily Pennsylvanian reported earlier this week. In addition to divestment from Israel, leaders of the anti-Zionist camp are demanding that the university vacate a suspension of Penn Students Against the Occupation of Palestine, which the school shut down after multiple rules violations. While the paper did not state which conditions the university has refused to accept, it reported earlier in the week that Penn has filed disciplinary charges against nine students — an action the protesters have deemed unacceptable.

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“Due to the administration’s continued bad-faith negotiations in our meeting this afternoon, the Gaza Solidarity encampment expands!” Penn Against the Occupation, which is operating in defiance of its suspension, said in a social media post on Wednesday. “We need you on College Green now!”

On Thursday, Neetu Arnold — a research fellow at the National Association of Scholars and author of Hijacked: The Capture of America’s Middle East Studies Centers — told The Algemeiner that Penn administrators narrowed their options by choosing not to clear the encampment sooner. Arnold has visited it several times herself and watched conditions there deteriorate in real time.

“Penn administrators should have addressed the encampment in its early days when the situation was still relatively tame,” Arnold said. “There were already signs that things would escalate. When I visited campus on the second day of the demonstration, protesters had already vandalized the Ben Franklin statue in front of College Hall. The university could have taken action then. Instead, they issued empty threats, and now the protesters aren’t taking them seriously.”

The University of Pennsylvania is one of many schools where students have taken over sections of campuses and refused to leave unless administrators condemn and boycott Israel. Footage of the protests has shown demonstrators chanting in support of Hamas, calling for the destruction of Israel, and even threatening to harm members of the Jewish community on campus. In many cases, activists have also lambasted the US and Western civilization more broadly.

Antisemitism fueled by anti-Zionism exploded at the university long before Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7. In September, it hosted “The Palestine Writes Literature Festival,” which included speakers such as Palestinian researcher Salman Abu Sitta, who once promoted antisemitic tropes, saying in an interview, “Jews were hated in Europe because they played a role in the destruction of the economy in some of the countries, so they would hate them.” Another controversial figure invited to the event was former Pink Floyd vocalist Roger Waters, whose long record of anti-Jewish snipes was the subject of a documentary released last year.

One day before the event took place, an unidentified male walked into the university’s Hillel building behind a staffer and shouted “F—k the Jews” and “Jesus Christ is king!” before overturning tables, podium stands, and chairs, according to students and school officials who spoke with The Algemeiner. Days earlier, just before the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah, a giant swastika was graffitied in the basement of the university’s Stuart Weitzman School of Design.

Former Penn president Elizabeth Magill, who refused to stop the university from hosting the festival, resigned from her post in December, ending a 17-month tenure marked by controversy over what critics described as an insufficient response to surging antisemitism on campus.