Capitol Beat

PA officials take stand against antisemitism amid Israel-Hamas war protests

Gov. Josh Shapiro spoke in Philly over the weekend, while GOP lawmakers are introducing bills to combat antisemitism.

Gov. Josh Shapiro speaks at a rally against antisemitism in Philadelphia.

Gov. Josh Shapiro speaks at a rally against antisemitism in Philadelphia. Commonwealth Media Services

Pennsylvania government officials are vowing to fight antisemitism and hate as tensions persist in the commonwealth over the Israel-Hamas war in the Middle East.

Gov. Josh Shapiro and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey on Sunday hosted a rally against antisemitism at Rodeph Shalom Synagogue in Philadelphia. The gathering was in part a direct response to a Dec. 3 protest outside an Israeli-owned falafel shop in Philadelphia that drew condemnation from Shapiro and the White House. It also came just days after then-University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill and other university leaders testified before Congress about antisemitism on college campuses – testimony that ultimately led to Magill’s resignation

Speaking Sunday at Rodeph Shalom, Shapiro thanked attendees for showing strength in numbers and strength in each other. “The reason we are here is because this is where we need to be,” Shapiro said, recalling his visit to the synagogue following the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh in 2018. “Today, here at RS, again, we gather to find strength in one another. But I hope as we gather here today, you also leave here finding your power, and finding the fact that you are not helpless in the midst of this rising antisemitism.” 

“I came back here today to tell you that you have the power to combat this antisemitism, and now more than ever, we need you,” Shapiro said. 

Casey, Pennsylvania’s senior U.S. senator, echoed Shapiro’s sentiments: “We gather in this season of light, this season of hope, but we also gather, of course, for a very specific purpose: We gather to call out and condemn the horrific evil of antisemitism,” Casey said. “That’s why we gather.”

Since Hamas militants invaded southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking another 240 hostage, Israel responded with a military offensive, and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry reports more than 17,700 Palestinians have been killed, per the AP.

Reports of antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents in the United States have increased in the months following the Hamas attack, according to separate reports from the Anti-Defamation League.

While Shapiro, Casey and other leaders gathered in Philadelphia on Sunday, demonstrators convened on the steps of the state Capitol in Harrisburg and marched in the streets to call for a ceasefire in Gaza, according to PennLive.

The march temporarily shut down some Harrisburg streets, and demonstrators marched up Second Street to the governor’s mansion and then back to the Capitol, according to PennLive and videos posted to X on Sunday by Spotlight PA reporter Stephen Caruso and Roxbury News

In a statement on Monday, Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman, an Indiana County Republican, expressed concern that the march made its way to the governor’s home. “The protesters’ march to the Governor’s Residence and targeting of Governor Shapiro was extremely troubling. Despite our political differences, I stand with the governor, his family, the Jewish community of Pennsylvania and the people of Israel,” Pittman said, noting that antisemitism has “no place” in the commonwealth.

And following Liz Magill’s resignation as president of the University of Pennsylvania over the weekend, Republican legislators in the state House on Monday announced they are introducing a three-bill package to combat antisemitism in schools. 

The bills, announced at a press conference by GOP state Reps. Rob Mercuri, Kristin Marcell and Joe Hogan, seek to do the following: 

  • Require colleges and universities that receive state funding to acknowledge antisemitism as harassment or bullying
  • Require schools that offer holocaust instruction to post the curriculum online
  • Establish Nov. 9, 2024 as Antisemitism Awareness and Education Day in Pennsylvania

Mercuri, who is sponsoring the legislation focused on college and university funding, said his legislation could offer reassurance to students and parents at Pennsylvania institutions of higher learning. 

“My legislation, which I’m introducing this week, would tie taxpayer funds for our state related and state owned universities, to their declaring that antisemitic behavior and calls for genocide of the Jews is unacceptable,” Mercuri said. “This is a simple measure that we can take to reassure each other and those on campus that we stand together with them.”

Shapiro, speaking Sunday, doubled down not only on his commitment to strengthening the state’s hate crime laws and bolstering Holocaust education, but to creating a welcoming state for all. “I’m committed to doing the work, as well, to ensure that we teach the history of the Holocaust in our classrooms here in Pennsylvania, to making sure that we strengthen our hate crimes laws here in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to building a commonwealth … in the vision of Penn – a place that he envisioned would be tolerant, would be welcoming to all, no matter how you practice your faith.”