Temple University is investigating an incident that allegedly involved “physical violence and and anti-Semitic statements,” the Philadelphia university said in a statement.
An altercation broke out last Wednesday near a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) table during a welcome event for freshman students. Daniel Vessal, a member and former vice president of the Jewish fraternity AEPi, told the website TruthRevolt that he approached the table and a discussion devolved into violence. Vessal said he was punched in the face by someone at the SJP table, and was called a “Zionist pig,” “racist,” and “baby killer.”
Michael Wildes, a former federal prosecutor representing Vessal, told Tablet, “He was struck for expressing himself and trying to understand others, and the police authorities released the perpetrator instead of taking him into custody and prosecuting him.” The university’s reaction was “unprofessional, and symptomatic of a lack of a proactive response,” said Wildes, who called on the police to complete the investigation and take action.
SJP released a statement saying that Vassel had been slapped by a former student who was not involved with the organization. “While the former student who slapped Vessal is an acquaintance of SJP members, he has not been involved with the group in the past and is not a member.”
The group maintained that no anti-Semitic slurs were used, adding that SJP Temple has Jewish members and stands against anti-Semitism.
“The incident that occurred today was an unnecessary and deplorable, and does not represent the principles of our organization. However, it was in no way an incident motivated by anti-Semitic sentiment,” the statement read.
Vice President of Student Affairs Theresa Powell told students, “we want to emphasize that Temple University unequivocally condemns in the strongest possible terms the disparagement of any person or persons based on religion, nationality, race, gender, sexual orientation or identity. The University will not tolerate violence of any kind directed towards members of the Temple community.”
Phil Nordlinger, the director of Temple Hillel, called on the university to take swift disciplinary measures against any student who is found to have made anti-Semitic statements.
“We are shocked and saddened by this incident and in the seven years that I’ve been here we haven’t seen a sort of violent escalation of tempers like this,” Nordlinger told Tablet. “We are angered that in the report it states that it was accompanied by anti-Semitic verbal abuse.”
The University said in a statement that officials have reached out to leaders of Jewish and pro-Palestinian communities on campus to discuss the incident.
Adam Janofsky is a recent graduate of the University of Chicago, where he was editor of the student newspaper, The Chicago Maroon. He has worked and written for The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, and The Bangkok Post. Follow him on Twitter @adamjanofsky.