Tuesday, October 21, 2014 Tishri 27, 5775

Course Correction Needed at Temple

August 27, 2014
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Fraternity brothers of Daniel Vessal, a Jewish student who was assaulted by a pro-Palestinian supporter at Temple University, listen to university president Neil Theobald at a student government meeting on Aug. 25. Many left with an impression that their questions hadn't been answered. Photo by Amishai Gottlieb.
Last week’s incident at Temple University, in which a Jewish student allegedly was assaulted, signaled a disturbing beginning to the new academic year. The big question now is how to ensure that this episode — already garnering national headlines — doesn’t become a harbinger of things to come.
 
Across the country, Hillel officials, Chabad rabbis and others involved with Jewish students worried that this year’s return to campus was going to be a rough one, given the intensity of the summer war between Israel and Hamas. Student supporters of Israel were already facing an alarming level of animosity on many college campuses in the past few years, with ugly acts of intimidation and divestment efforts by those seeking to delegitimize the Jewish state.
 
Now Temple has the dubious national distinction of hosting the first such incident of the new year. On Aug. 20, a pro-Israel activist allegedly was punched in the face by a student associated with Students for Justice in Palestine.
 
As Temple’s campus police wrap up their investigation of the incident — and we await word on what internal action might be taken against the student and/or whether criminal charges are filed — a larger issue is at stake: how the university is confronting the issue. 
 
Temple University officials were swift to alert the campus community to the occurrence and condemn the violence, and the dean of students has spent countless hours talking to Hillel officials and others — by all accounts, taking the matter very seriously.
 
But the school has not gone far enough. The school’s vice president of student affairs, Theresa Powell, issued a campus-wide statement condemning “in the strongest possible terms the disparagement of any person or persons based on religion, nationality, race, gender, sexual orientation or identity.” The president, Neil Theobald, also condemned the physical violence on campus but missed an opportunity at a student government meeting on Monday to reassure Jewish students that actions against them specifically will not be tolerated.  
 
Furthermore, Temple needs to hold Students for Justice in Palestine accountable. Despite the group’s statements distancing itself from the student involved, it seems obvious that the alleged perpetrator associates with the group and its views. It needs to be made abundantly clear that such actions have consequences.
 
Until now, Philadelphia-area campuses have largely been known as a bastion of moderation compared to the way the Israeli-Palestinian conflict plays out elsewhere. It is up to Temple to determine whether that reputation stands or whether it will open the door to the kind of intimidating climate that Jewish students are finding on far too many campuses.
 

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