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After Welcome Week assault, mixed stories

The university addresses an alleged assault at activities fair.

Rose Daraz, 21, president of Students for Justice in Palestine, said she wishes the whole affair never happened.

“We have Jewish members as well so it wouldn’t make sense,” she said. “We are anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic.”

Last Wednesday afternoon, during the university’s student activities fair, “Temple Fest,” senior management information systems major Daniel Vessal was attacked and allegedly called an anti-Semitic slur.

Vessal, a Jewish student and member of the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi, told Truth Revolt that he approached the SJP table at Temple Fest to discuss about the current conflict between Israel and Hamas.

The website, led by editor-in-chief Ben Shapiro, was the first website to address the confrontation later that day.

After some back and forth, Vessal said, a student from the SJP table punched him in the face.

“When the police came over and were filing the report, the kids at the table were screaming ‘You Zionist pig, you racist, that’s what you get,” Vessal told the site.

Temple News reporters who witnessed the incident said the shouting started as soon as Vessal hit the ground.

In a statement posted on its website, Jewish campus organization Temple Hillel stood with Vessal in agreement that “blatant anti-Semitic verbal abuse” did occur.

“We urge the University administration to reassure the Temple community that students may express themselves in peaceful and non-violent ways without fear of physical assault and that expressions of ethnic hatred will not be tolerated on Temple’s campus,” the statement read.

The statement also mentioned concern for the safety of Jewish and pro-Israel students on campus.

Daraz paints a very different picture of the attack.

An SJP statement countered that Vessal was slapped, not punched, after calling its members “terrorists” and that the assailant, who Daraz described as Palestinian-American, was not a member of the organization.

“We definitely did not say ‘baby killer,’” Daraz said. “We never condone physical action or racism.”

Daraz said she believes that the whole affair has been blown out of proportion and was shocked when a story appeared on Truth Revolt.

“We thought the issue had stayed between my friend and [Vessal] and then I see this article by this right-wing news place,” Daraz said. “And they said we said all these slurs and lies and we were just shocked.”

In response to the attack, a Facebook page has been started titled, “Demand the Removal of SJP from Temple University.” The group initially scheduled a rally to take place at 2:30 p.m. Monday on Polett Walk to demand “equal rights and privileges for all students, not just the Palestinian ones.” The group postponed the rally to Thursday after President Theobald agreed to speak about the attack.

Daraz told The Temple News that members of her organization will not counterprotest.

“We told all of our members and allies not to go,” Daraz said.

Theobald spoke about the attacks Monday at Temple Student Government’s meeting.

Meanwhile, Executive Director of Campus Safety Services Charles Leone said the investigation is moving forward but has encountered a few roadblocks.

“Unfortunately, some of the witnesses didn’t want to talk with us,” he said.

Leone said the student dropped off a statement with CSS on Monday. Leone said the offender and his attorney were preparing a statement for him, expected Monday.

“We are trying to figure out if – the kid who punched him – if he said [the anti-Semitic slur],” Leone explained.

Following the assault, Vice President of Student Affairs Theresa Powell emailed a letter to the Temple community condemning any “disparagement or assault of any person based on religion or nationality.”

Powell told The Temple News on Monday in an email that “there is no change in the status of SJP,” and the university will look to create “safe places for dialogue.”

“I wish it never happened,” Leone said. “It’s just really horrible. You can have debates, just not to the level where someone gets hurt.”

Cindy Stansbury can be reached at cindy.stansbury@temple.edu.

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