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Help victims of the war

One Family Together is an Israeli organization providing assistance to victims of terror attacks, with financial and legal assistance, mental health services, support groups, and healing camps for the young.

Magen David Adom, Israel’s version of the Red Cross, is peopled by 26,000 volunteers and provides much of the country’s national emergency medical services. 

World Food Program USA is collecting donations to get much-needed food aid into Gaza and the West Bank.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is donating medical supplies to Gaza and is working with authorities to help identify the missing. They are also partnered with Magen David Adom and the Palestine Red Crescent Society to help the wounded and sick.


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Solutions for better citizenship

One of the founding tenets of The Philadelphia Citizen is to get people the resources they need to become better, more engaged citizens of their city.

We hope to do that in our Good Citizenship Toolkit, which includes a host of ways to get involved in Philadelphia — whether you want to contact your City Councilmember about the challenges facing your community, get those experiencing homelessness the goods they need, or simply go out to dinner somewhere where you know your money is going toward a greater good.

Find an issue that’s important to you in the list below, and get started on your journey of A-plus citizenship.

Vote and strengthen democracy

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The Israel-Palestine conflict: a brief, simple history from Vox

A well-researched history lesson on the roots of the current conflict, plus links to explainers on settlements, the Zionist movement, the once-ongoing peace process, and more. It’s important to understand the historical context out of which this conflict arose, and what these terms politicians, protestors, and the media are throwing around today actually mean and where they come from.


To this story in CitizenCast

Welcome to the enhanced audio edition of Larry’s story

And go here for more audio articles, interviews and special events from CitizenCast

Free Speech … or Pro-Terrorist?

Professors and local pols like progressive Councilmembers Gauthier, Brooks and O’Rourke say they want to support Penn students’ rights to peaceful protest. But does their support of Gaza encampments turn a moral blind eye?

Free Speech … or Pro-Terrorist?

Professors and local pols like progressive Councilmembers Gauthier, Brooks and O’Rourke say they want to support Penn students’ rights to peaceful protest. But does their support of Gaza encampments turn a moral blind eye?

Last week, after Penn Interim President Larry Jameson demanded that protestors on his campus — some sizable number of whom are not even Penn students — cease and desist what has seemed to morph into their pro-Hamas encampment, a press release was issued from the Penn Chapter of the American Association of University Professors and progressive politicians Rick Krajewski, Jamie Gauthier, Kendra Brooks, Nicolas O’Rourke, Nikil Saval, Chris Rabb and Tarik Khan.

They called for Penn to “respect students’ rights to engage in nonviolent protest by refraining from calling in law enforcement to make arrests; refrain from filing disciplinary and criminal charges against peaceful protesters involved in the encampment, and consider the demands of and negotiate in good faith with student organizers.”

I’m with them on free speech: I’m such an absolutist, I’m even for shouting “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater. Hell, I’m joyously practicing the miracle of free speech right freakin’ now. But something was missing from the press release, as it has been from all the recent coverage of the tumult on elite campuses over the war in Gaza: Any clear-headed moral accounting. The AAUP and its co-signing progressives would have you believe there’s some highfalutin debate going on on quads across the nation. Instead, there is hate and defacement.

At Penn, there was the slogan “Zios Get Fuckt” on its Ben Franklin statue [Zios shorthand for Zionists], and the flag of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, deemed a terrorist group by the State Department, has waved this week. The Daily Pennsylvanian reported on unverified allegations that protester chants have included “Al Qassam make us proud, take another soldier down” and “Globalize the intifada.” In December, the New York Post reported that Penn protesters chanted “We Are Hamas!” At other universities in recent days, including Columbia and Yale, there have been assaults and chants like “Go Hamas, We Love You/We Support Your Rockets Too” and “We Say Justice, You Say How/Burn Tel Aviv to the Ground.”

Vandalized Ben Franklin statue at Penn.

Here’s what boggles my mind: A sizable number of otherwise smart, secular liberals in the last six months — the AAUP, the politicians, a segment of the protestors — have made the morally troubling turn from anti-war to pro-Hamas. Tellingly, the press release from the AAUP and the politicians doesn’t even mention Hamas — without whose barbarity on October 7 there would be no war. Remember, there was a ceasefire — on October 6. Hamas broke it, in the most brutal of ways, filming the carnage for the world to see. Calling for a unilateral ceasefire now? That’s appeasement, at best. How could we have forgotten how we got here?

A war on modernity

Yes, Israel’s assault on Gaza has been brutal and tragic, and also self-defeating, as the country’s standing in the world attests. But there is no moral equivalence between the horrors of war and the sheer inhumanity that sparked it. The idea that Hamas is some freedom-fighting entity driven by Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank is actually proof that western rationalists simply can’t conceive of pure evil. (Nor is this anything that Hamas has ever claimed, as its founding charter specifies: Its mission is to annihilate Jews.) October 7 was, morally, no different than September 11: A Jihadi death cult declared war on modernity. Six months later, many among us who kind of like rationality, individual rights and decency are kind of shrugging our shoulders? Six months later, and our best and brightest on college campuses are siding with the religious zealots who believe they’ll be rewarded in Paradise for killing infidels? Seriously?

What the AAUP, the progressive pols, and the protesters fail to take into account is that what’s at stake in Gaza, as in Ukraine, is nothing less than the future of freedom itself. The freedom to not be butchered in your own home, either by a Bond-like villain who masterminds murder like some of us place Amazon orders, as in Ukraine … or by religious fanatics, as on October 7. Yes, the footage from Gaza is heartbreaking. But widen your lens: What’s really going on, worldwide, is a clash between civilization and barbarism.

“Nothing reduces my faith in humanity more than routinely confronting educated people who have no capacity to discern the moral hierarchy here,” the brilliant philosopher Sam Harris said recently on his podcast, Making Sense. “The difference is so stark and so simple. There are people who use their own children as human shields or, worse, as bombs. There are people who kill their own daughters for the crime of getting raped because they have stained the family’s honor … Hamas is a jihadist organization — that’s all we need to know about it. How it got that way is less interesting — it would be like asking in 1941 how the SS became so radicalized. In 1941, there was nothing to do but kill Nazis.”

Harris is dead-on: Why are the protesters not calling for an end to the war tomorrow by demanding that Hamas return the hostages — including American hostages! — and give up power? After all, as The New York Times reported this week, ceasefire talks have broken down not because of Israel’s reluctance to negotiate, but because Hamas has thus far refused to agree to a deal. I take a backseat to no one in condemning Bibi Netanyahu (the shame of Cheltenham) and his right-wing government and its provocative settlements. But, again, a little perspective, please.

“No army has ever faced the challenge Israel is confronting,” Harris says. “Hundreds of miles of tunnels under hospitals and schools and mosques and homes, built to shelter jihadists, not innocent men, women and children. The innocent men, women and children are meant to stay in place to shield the tunnels. This is totally diabolical and totally new.”

What explains the moral obtuseness coursing through our media coverage and campus culture? Is it pure antisemitism, as some have suggested, or just simple-mindedness, the product of a culture more interested in who Taylor Swift dates than the future of individual autonomy? Or some combination thereof?

I don’t know — but here’s a theory: Moral confusion spreads like a virus when leadership is bereft of moral clarity. When editorial writers don all-too-predictable team colors, when elected officials eschew nuance for talking points, and when university presidents offer up word salad after word salad, is it any wonder that the lines between right and wrong become blurry to those whose natural default tends otherwise to outrage?

Where are the University presidents who lead?

Once upon a time, we had university presidents who led with their chin, who drew moral lines in the sand, who instructed us. I can think of a few back in the 80s, including Yale’s Bart Giammati (best known for siring a famous actor), who once said, “Leadership is an essential moral act, not — as in most management — an essentially protective act. It is the assertion of a vision, not simply the exercise of a style.’’ There was Benno Schmidt, who fought with the faculty to remake Yale and then rescued CUNY. These were men — and, back then, they usually were men — of substance. Men like Bard University’s Leon Botstein, not only an innovative free-thinker, but also a renowned orchestral conductor who once wrote that “the performing and visual arts are not a luxury in a free and democratic society but symptoms of its existence.” Can you imagine any of these dudes hemming and hawing before congressional committees or not being clear about what constitutes civil debate on their private grounds?

There was another university president back then who, at the time, I thought was a smacked ass. John Silber was the combative president of Boston University, but he was also a well-respected scholar of the philosophies of Immanuel Kant, one of the heroes of Enlightenment thinking, kind of the father of ethics. I fell in love with Kant in college when I read of his “categorical imperative,” the notion that one ought to treat every interaction with another human being never merely as a means to an end, but always as an end in and of itself. It’s a lovely way to approach one’s life — better, Silber and others would argue, than The Golden Rule, due to its high-minded absence of the expectation of mutuality.

Anyway, back in the 80s, I was one of those (pony-tailed!) students calling for colleges and universities to divest from supporting the horror of Apartheid in South Africa. Silber was a Democrat, mind you, who nearly became governor of Massachusetts. Yet he was having none of the performative protesting I was engaging in, as Howard Husock reminds us in City Journal.

Like the students at Penn today behind the encampment, BU students back then erected a shantytown on campus — meant to illustrate the horrid living conditions of Black South Africans. Like the Penn students, they were calling for university divestiture from businesses that profit from what they saw as immoral acts. (It’s not known precisely how Penn, if at all, invests in Israeli military operations, but on other campuses the argument for complicity has been pretty broad: Investments in Airbnb, for example, which rents apartments in Israel, or in Caterpillar, whose equipment helps clear rubble in Gaza, have made the list of student complaints.)

Silber was having none of it. Let Husock tell it from here:

At the time, BU was sponsoring a program to provide scholarships to black South African students. Silber saw calls for divestiture as a form of virtue-signaling. In a private meeting with protesters who demanded that BU divest from General Motors and IBM, he asked, Why should we do that? Is it immoral to own that stock?” When the students responded that it was, he said, So then, were supposed to sell it to somebody? We cant divest unless we sell it to somebody … If we sell it to somebody, we have just gotten rid of our guilt in order to impose guilt on somebody else.” Silber did not limit his response to this reply. He ordered university police to clear the shantytowns and arrest the students. Some were suspended or expelled.

He later reflected on the incident in a Wall Street Journal interview:

“Then they put up the shacks. I told the police, Go ask them three questions: Do you have a title to the property? (They built them on our property, not theirs.) Do you have a building permit? We have to have building permits. Have you got a clearance with the historical commission, because this is a historical district? If the answer is no to those three questions, then you tell them, Well give you about 15 minutes to remove your shanty. And if you dont, youll be arrested.’” I said, Now, none of them are going to remove their shanty, so youre going to have to arrest them …” Because one point I want to get across to these students is, I do not take them seriously. This is not some very deeply felt, high moral cause on their part; this is showboating of a very insincere kind by most of these students, and I want them to understand that I see through their pretensions.

What an arrogant asshole, I thought at the time, so fueled by my own self-righteousness. At least, unlike those today who are siding with Hamas, I was on the right side of history, inspired by heroic purveyors of freedom like Philadelphia Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, who we honored with a mural in 2022 and who actually helped write the Constitution of South Africa when Nelson Mandela finally took power.

But what I didn’t get at the time was what Silber was doing. Like any good Kantian, he was teaching. In his own pugnacious way, Silber was modeling deep engagement — and, by holding students accountable, he was treating those in his charge not only as sentient beings, but as adults.

This is not an anti-protest screed; it is, rather, to suggest that, despite the position of AAUP and our progressive pols, it’s actually infantilizing to protect protesters from accountability. Remember when Columbia students took over that Dean’s office in an anti-Vietnam protest in the 60s? At least the leaders of that movement, like Mark Rudd, had the courage of their convictions and readily accepted expulsion from the university whose rules they’d defied. Like King willingly entering that Birmingham jail, it actually gave their cause more credibility.

Ah, the wisdom of time. Forty years ago, I supported the moderate Republican William Weld over Silber in the race for governor of Massachusetts, and rejoiced when Weld eked out a win. Silber was a reactionary and, to me, a racist. Now here I am, ponytail long gone (thank God), and I’m watching many of our best and brightest protest while unable to identify either the river or the sea, and I’m wondering: Where have you gone John Silber? America turns its lonely eyes to you.


UPenn Gaza Solidarity Encampment. Photo by Joe Piette Via Flickr

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