UCLA, Rutgers, and Northwestern Face Congressional Scrutiny Over Antisemitism and Protest Encampments

By Matis Glenn

Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway testifies during a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce regarding pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses on Capitol Hill, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

The presidents of UCLA. Northwestern and Rutgers universities faced scrutiny at a congressional hearing Thursday regarding their handling of antisemitism on campus, with the latter two being grilled on their decision to “negotiate” with anti-Israel protestors, which include outside agitators, even acceding to some of their demands.

The hearing was called by the House Education and Workforce Committee, and is the fourth such hearing since the explosion of antisemitism at educational institutions following the October 7 massacre and the resultant war against the Hamas terror group in Gaza.

Northwestern’s Michael Schill, Jonathan Holloway of Rutgers, and Gene Block of UCLA were called before the Committee in Thursday’s hearing, which was meant to address public universities. Previous hearings focused on private institutions, including Ivy League schools Harvard and Columbia.

As the hearing went on, hundreds of Harvard graduates walked out of a commencement ceremony, chanting anti-Israel slogans after the university decided to forbid 13 students who violated school rules in other protests from attending the ceremony.

While Northwestern and Rutgers refused to give in to protestors’ demands that they divest from Israel, Rutgers agreed to “discuss” the issue, and Northwestern restarted a committee on “investment responsibility.”

Both universities agreed to granting amnesty to protestors who disrupted school operations and broke other rules, as well as expanding support for Muslim and Arab students.

In December, Rutgers suspended its chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, which supports Hamas and praises the Oct. 7 massacre, but reinstated it a month later.

Allegations of antisemitism were mounting at Rutgers, including an attack on members of a popular Jewish fraternity who were hit by eggs while having slurs hurled at them, Jewish students being yelled at, and pictures of Hamas’ hostages being ripped down. A campus Hillel worker says that students who report these incidents have been accused by the administration of lying. In a recent investigation by the media outlet ROI-NJ, around 7 faculty members spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals; many others refused to speak at all out of fear.

One professor said that seminars and speeches given at the university are biased against Israel.

“What is scary about these seminars and speeches on Gaza is that it’s a one-sided narrative about race,” a professor said. “They are factually inaccurate. They are misappropriating words, like colonization and genocide and apartheid. Students are listening to it, and they’re believing it. And there’s no counter-dialogue at all right now because people are scared.”

Faculty members believe that the university’s Business School is a prime target, due to the stereotypical association people make between Jews and business.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) grilled Schill on instances of antisemitism. “Isn’t it true that a Jewish student was told to quote – go back to Germany and get gassed – end quote,” Stefanik asked.
Schill responded that the allegation was under investigation: “I’ve heard that alleged, again, it is being investigated. We will investigate any claim of discrimination or harassment.”

“Each of you should be ashamed of your decisions that allowed antisemitic encampments to endanger Jewish students,” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), who chairs committee, said. “Mr. Schill and Dr. Holloway, you should be doubly ashamed for capitulating to the antisemitic rule breakers.”

“We made a choice — that choice was to engage our students through dialogue as a first option instead of police action,” Holloway said. “We had seen what transpired at other universities and sought a different way.”

“We had to get the encampment down,” Schill said, regarding his decision to negotiate with protestors instead of calling on police to deal with encampments that were impeding college activities. “The police solution was not going to be available to us to keep people safe, and also may not be the wisest solution as we’ve seen at other campuses across the country.”

“We had students who were willing to negotiate and gave up their demands,” Schill said. “We said no, nothing that singles out Israel. Let’s think about what will make the university stronger.”

Foxx responded that Schill created the perception that he would support divestment, “which encouraged other universities to cave on this.”

Vocally anti-Israel Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), who is Muslim, questioned why the committee was not discussing violence allegedly perpetrated against an anti-Israel encampment by a group of counterprotestors. The counterprotestors are accused of using pepper spray and throwing cones at the encampment.

Omar did not mention the beating of a female Jewish UCLA student at the hands of a mob of male protestors a few weeks prior. The victim suffered a concussion.

All three presidents denounced antisemitism.

Block said public universities are in an especially tough bind as they work to shield students from discrimination while also upholding free speech, but Schill deflected a question from Rep. Burgess Owens, (R-UT), who asked if Schill would be as patient with the protestors if they were members of the Ku Klux Klan. Schill said he would not “engage in hypotheticals.”

As in previous hearings, Republicans pressed the leaders on discipline. They asked how many students had been expelled and how many faculty had been fired over antisemitic incidents since Oct. 7, when Hamas attacked Israel.

None of the presidents said students had been expelled, though they said there are dozens of ongoing investigations. Four students were suspended at Rutgers, Holloway said.

Schill said the numbers aren’t a reflection of inaction.

“The fact that we didn’t have not yet suspended or expelled students does not mean that students have not received discipline,” he said. “There’s a wide range of discipline, and discipline has been meted out to many of those students.”

A wave of pro-Palestinian tent encampments nationwide has led to over 3,000 arrests of lawbreaking students and outside agitators.

Rep. Bob Good (R-VA) asked Holloway if he believes that Israel’s government is “genocidal,” a phrase after referencing a social media post by Rutgers-Newark’s Center for Security, Race and Rights (CSRR), which called referred to Israel as such. Holloway answered, “Sir, I don’t have an opinion on Israel’s — in terms of that phrase.” When asked again, Holloway said, “I think Israel has a right exist and to protect itself.”

But when Rep. Eric Burlison (R-MO) asked all three if they believe Israel is a genocidal state, all three, including Holloway, responded in the negative.

After the first congressional hearings in December, an outcry of criticism from donors, students and politicians led to the resignations of the presidents of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, who gave cautious, halting answers to questions about whether calls for the genocide of Jews would violate their schools’ conduct policies.

In April, the committee turned its attention to Columbia President Minouche Shafik, who took a more conciliatory approach to Republican-led questioning. Shafik’s concessions around faculty academic freedom upset students and professors at Columbia. Her testimony, and subsequent decision to call in police, escalated protests on campus that inspired students at other colleges to launch similar demonstrations.

Originally, the presidents of Yale University and the University of Michigan were called to testify on Thursday. But the committee shifted its attention to Northwestern and Rutgers after those colleges struck deals with pro-Palestinian protesters to limit or disband encampments.

Rep. Kevin Kiley, (R-CA), showed a video from last month of protesters at UCLA blocking a pro-Israel, Jewish student from walking near the encampment. Kiley asks each university leader if “blocking students from entering campus based on their race, religion or ethnicity” is an expellable offense at their universities. They all respond by saying, essentially, that it could be depending on the circumstances.

“Today’s hearing is the beginning, not the end, of the committee’s investigation of your institutions,” Foxx said, addressing the three university presidents who testified today. “You’ll be held accountable for your records.”

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