Campus Leaders Struggle to Define ‘Genocide of Jews’ as Antisemitism, Harassment in Congressional Hearing

By Hamodia Staff

A pro-Palestinian protester shouts slogans toward the Israeli Embassy in Washington, last week. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

During a House of Representatives hearing on combating hate crimes and antisemitism on college campuses since the Gaza war’s start on Tuesday, leading university presidents grappled with defining expressions like “calling for the genocide of Jews” as bullying or harassment within their institutions’ codes of conduct.

The presidents of Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), and MIT testified for five hours before the Committee on Education and the Workforce. They faced questions regarding actions against antisemitic incidents involving students, faculty recruitment procedures for diverse perspectives, and ensuring campus safety.

Lawmakers urged the university leaders to consider students feeling threatened and attacked while seeking safety.

During a heated exchange, Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik confronted Harvard’s president, Claudine Gay, asking if language calling for the murder of African American students would be permitted in Harvard. Gay began speaking about Harvard’s commitment to free speech, and Stefanik asked her for a straightforward “yes” or “no” answer. Gay then began restating her reply, and was cut off by Stefanik. When asked if expressions such as “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” or “intifada,” constitute a call for genocide of the Jewish people and Israel, Gay responded that such expressions were “personally abhorrent” to her, were “thoughtless, reckless, and hateful,” but would not answer if Harvard would consider that language to be protected free speech, admitting only that it violated “Harvard’s values.”

When pressed about considering “calling for the genocide of Jews” as bullying or harassment according to Harvard’s code, Gay responded by stating the university’s commitment to free expression, saying “We embrace a commitment to free expression even of views that are objectionable, offensive, hateful… it’s when that speech crosses into conduct that violates our policy against bullying…”

Stefanik responded with a study indicating that Harvard “ranked last” in the nation for protecting free speech on campus, citing incidents where student applicants were rejected and admission offers were rescinded based on social media posts that contained racist statements. Gay responded that these incidents happened before her appointment as President earlier this year.

Stefanik criticized this stance vociferously and called for Gay’s resignation.

MIT President Sally Kornbluth noted that a call for “the genocide of Jews” would breach the institution’s code if directed at individuals. Kornbluth hesitated to provide a simple yes or no, indicating a lack of such calls on campus and discerning chants potentially deemed antisemitic based on context.

UPenn President Liz Magill echoed similar sentiments, emphasizing the context’s importance in categorizing public calls as harassment or violence. Stefanik pressed for a clear acknowledgment that calls for genocide constitute harassment, to which Magill eventually conceded, suggesting that calls for murder could be seen as harassment.

Despite the discussion, the decision to “hold campus leaders accountable for confronting antisemitism” was ultimately rejected.

Committee Chair Virginia Foxx urged the presidents to do more in combating antisemitism on campuses.

The Orthodox Union lauded the hearing.

“Today’s hearing showed that America’s leaders will not stand by as antisemitism rages on our college campuses. Jewish students have the right to live freely and safely, and we are glad to see tangible steps being taken to protect those rights,” Nathan Diament, Director of Public Policy for the Orthodox Union said in a statement.

The U.S. Education Department is investigating possible discrimination based on shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics at universities including Harvard, Cornell, Columbia, Penn and Cooper Union, based on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act At Cornell, a student threatened to kill Jewish students, and at Cooper Union, Jewish students were barricaded in a library for safety during a pro-Palestinian protest.

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