Dozens of senior faculty members from the University of Pennsylvania returned home from a three-day trip to Israel on Jan. 4, which was the first Ivy League solidarity mission to Israel since the Oct. 7 attacks and the controversial congressional hearings involving several top universities.
The trip, which was coordinated by tour operator Israel Destination – Ya’ad Yisrael, is notable after the recent congressional hearings, where school presidents from three universities, including UPenn, faced heavy criticism over what many considered to be subpar responses to questions about dealing with campus antisemitism and the protection of Jewish students.
UPenn faculty members met with President Isaac Herzog, visited with the families of hostages being held by Hamas, were briefed by the members of the Israel Defense Forces, visited several sites with ties to the attacks, and met academic counterparts at several different Israeli universities.
“I was truly surprised to see how much our visit meant to our Israeli colleagues and by my own overwhelming emotional response to hearing from Israelis firsthand. I hope that our visit will inspire more university communities to move past divisive cultures and come themselves,” said Peter Decherney, Edmund and Louise Kahn Term Professor of the Humanities at UPenn and co-organizer of the mission, said in a written statement.
At the various meetings, the delegation discussed several issues with their Israeli colleagues, including challenges faced by academia during the outbreak of war and the heightened level of antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment in academia.
“Academic communities are incredibly small, tight-knit families that span the globe,” said Michael J. Kahana, Edmund and Louise Kahn Term Professor of Psychology at UPenn and co-organizer of the mission. “When the horrific trauma of Oct. 7 struck the Israeli academic community, people awaited words of comfort from their close colleagues and friends, but for many, those words did not come.”
According to a press release concerning the mission, the delegation left the trip with a greater understanding of how they can support their Israeli counterparts during this difficult time and gained greater fortitude in dealing with a rash of antisemitism and anti-Israel rhetoric back in the United States.
“At Israel Destination, we are seeing an overwhelming need from people across all segments of society to show up in Israel. We are proud to have facilitated this UPenn mission and more than 40 others since Oct. 7. Actions speak louder than words. Now is the time to stand up for Israel. In Israel,” Yair Jablinowitz, Israel Destination’s business development manager, said in the release.