OpinionU.S. News

No brotherly love for Israel at this elite school

If a school’s leadership cannot bring themselves to genuinely condemn terrorism without context, then they lack a basic requirement for their jobs.

The William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
The William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Moshe Phillips
Moshe Phillips is a commentator on Jewish affairs whose writings appear regularly in the American and Israeli press.  

The fact that Ivy League administrators have allowed anti-Israel extremism to infest their campuses has been widely condemned. There have also been news reports of anti-Semitic violence committed by pro-Hamas radicals at college campuses, and even in public schools. However, at the same time, very little information is being revealed about the lies being told about Israel at America’s elite private primary and secondary schools.

A prime example of the types of issues Jewish students at private schools are facing would have to include the William Penn Charter School (PC) in Philadelphia. PC is not just any elite school. In many ways, it is the elite school. Founded in 1689, it is the world’s oldest Quaker school and the nation’s fifth-oldest elementary school. Despite being Quaker, it has a large Jewish student body.

From its very first communication three days after the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel to their school community, PC engaged in blatant obfuscation and both-sides-ism. “War is never justified” and moral equivalency messages received an immediate backlash and condemnation from many Jewish students and parents. The result was that the very next day, on Oct. 11, PC followed up their first, failed memo with an attempt to acknowledge their wrongheaded approach. “We are writing to acknowledge that the message we sent yesterday related to the terrorist attacks in Israel this weekend did not articulate Penn Charter’s position … we heard that our Jewish families feel unheard and unseen; we heard that our message failed to condemn evil and suggested a moral equivalency … Penn Charter unequivocally condemns all terrorism. The heinous acts committed by the terrorist group Hamas … are an outrage, and we are personally heartbroken … .” It was quickly apparent that the apology was simply an attempt to stifle criticism and not a sign that real care would be taken to call out anti-Zionism and terrorism for the evils that they are. 

More than a month after the failed apology and lack of personal response from the administration to Jewish parents, Penn Charter’s administration realized that due to the rising tension on campus, it had to turn to outside assistance to help educate staff and students. And so it selected a highly partisan organization called Interfaith Philadelphia. 

Interfaith has a history of employing radicals, as well as closely partnering with organizations with long anti-Israel records. One of its top staffers was previously a leader of the Philadelphia chapter of CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations). Critics of CAIR have long accused it of maintaining close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Another Interfaith Philadelphia staffer received her education at the Women’s Islamic Theological Seminary (Jami’at al-Zahra) in Qum, Iran.

It is also worth noting that notorious Israel-hater Marc Lamont Hill has had a close relationship with PC.

Immediately preceding the start of Chanukah, Interfaith Philadelphia sent two presenters to PC to speak: one said he “identified” as a Muslim, who spoke about Islamophobia; and the other said she “identified” as a Jew.

The assembly with Interfaith Philadelphia at PC was a mandatory program for Upper School students. Similar to the lack of morality displayed by University of Pennsylvania president Liz Magill in front of Congress on Dec. 5, the Interfaith Philadelphia presenters reportedly refused to condemn the Hamas attackers and their atrocities. The presenters also reportedly stated that the widely condemned protests in front of a kosher-certified restaurant in Philadelphia called Goldie was deserved because the owner is Israeli and contributes financially to the Israel Defense Forces.

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, who is Jewish, visited the restaurant in the immediate aftermath of the protest and stated: “People have a right to peacefully protest a difference of policy in the Middle East or in Israel. They don’t have a right to come and protest a restaurant simply because it’s owned by a Jew and hold that Jew responsible for Israeli policy. That is the definition of antisemitism.” Both of Pennsylvania’s senators—Bob Casey and John Fetterman—also condemned the protests.


About the chant “From the River to the Sea: Palestine will be Free,” the Interfaith Philadelphia presenters told the students and staff that the rallying cry is actually simply a call for freedom. Marc Lamont Hill has similarly defended his use of the chant.

What makes all of this worse is that the PC administration in an official communication after the shameful program congratulated themselves for working to “educate” students and staff.

We know that PC learned nothing because of a memo issued by school administrators after the Interfaith Philadelphia-led assembly. The memo claimed that the presenters—the ones who refused to condemn the Oct. 7 attacks—“modeled how to engage in respectful, honest and constructive discourse on complex and challenging topics despite having different perspectives.”

There are no “perspectives” when it comes to facts, just like with Magill’s congressional testimony that there is no “context” when it comes to calling for the genocide of Jews. It is a cornerstone of American education that facts matter. But PC’s administrators seem to think that there is something “complex” about the Hamas attacks. There is nothing “challenging” about teaching American youth about terrorism: It is wrong, always. The Hamas attacks were evil, unprovoked and wrong. When one confronts evil, not only is there no need to be “respectful”; what is needed is truth and morality. If a school’s leadership cannot bring themselves to genuinely condemn terrorism without context, then they lack a basic and mandatory requirement for their jobs. If the school cannot bring itself to replace leadership like this, it has no reason to run.

In its war against Hamas in Gaza, Israel is engaged in self-defense for its very existence. Israel has both the moral right and the duty to engage in self-defense. America’s Founding Fathers always considered self-defense a virtue. Right in Philadelphia, where PC is located, the Constitution was written with the words “provide for the common defense” in its very first sentence. Would the leadership of PC have Israel lay down its guns and allow Hamas to commit worse attacks in the future? On Nov. 30, Yahya Sinwar, a senior leader of Hamas, said that “the leaders of the occupation should know, Oct. 7 was just a rehearsal.”

For American educators, the choice is clear: Support one side or the other. In 2023, far too many educators earned failing grades. This year, they will have the opportunity to get back on the right track and course-correct. Let’s hope that they do just that.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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