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Key Takeaways from the House Hearing on College Campus Antisemitism

Several university presidents were brought before Congress to explain why antisemitism is so acute on college campuses.
Claudine Gay, Liz Magill, Pamela Nadell and Sally Kornbluth testify before the House Education and Workforce Committee. CBS/Getty Images
Claudine Gay, Liz Magill, Pamela Nadell and Sally Kornbluth testify before the House Education and Workforce Committee. CBS/Getty Images

By: Jarrett Stepman, The Daily Signal

Incidents of antisemitism have exploded on American college campuses following the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack on Israel. Several college presidents appeared before a House committee on Tuesday to explain why antisemitism has been particularly acute on their campuses and what they will do to stop it.

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce heard from Harvard University President Claudine Gay, University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Sally Kornbluth.

Here are some key takeaways from the hearing.

Accountability for Antisemitism, or More Excuses?

Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., read from a speech Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., recently delivered. Schumer is the highest-ranking Jewish politician in America.

In the speech, Schumer said that many of those expressing antisemitism right now “aren’t neo-Nazis or card-carrying Klan members or Islamist extremists.”

Instead, he said that they are people “most liberal Jewish Americans felt previously were their ideological fellow travelers.”

Foxx noted that while Schumer did a good job of acknowledging the antisemitism on the far Left, he did not mention college campuses.

“After the events of the past two months, it’s clear that rabid antisemitism and the university are two ideas that cannot be cleaved from one another,” she said while then noting various “diversity, equity, and inclusion” programs that specifically focused on race at Harvard.

She noted that Harvard became “ground zero” for hate directed toward Jews and ascribed the rise in antisemitism to the “race-based ideology” that’s become common on college campuses.

“Institutional antisemitism and hate are among the poisoned fruits of your institutions’ cultures,” Foxx said. She stated that the responsibility for stopping this problem is with the university presidents and their administrations.

She asked if these university representatives were willing to confront the ideology now driving antisemitism or whether they would offer “weak, blame-shifting excuses in yet another responsibility-dodging task force.”

“This moment is an inflection point. It demands leaders of moral clarity with the courage to delineate good from evil and right from wrong,” she said.

Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., said in his opening statement that, historically, college campuses have been hubs for students and faculty to express intellectual thought and expression. He said that following the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, campuses have become polarized.

“We’ve been witnessing a disturbing rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia,” he said.

Scott said that antisemitism didn’t start with the Oct. 7 attack or with diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

He said that America has a “centuries-long history of racism and white supremacy.”

The Virginia Congressman said that Republicans were stoking “culture wars that are divisive and discriminatory.”

Response From the Academy

Harvard’s president said her university condemns the Oct. 7 attack on Israel. She said that since that incident, “We have seen a dramatic and deeply concerning rise in antisemitism around the world, in the United States, and on our campuses, including my own.”

Gay said she had heard of incidents of intimidation of Jews from students and staff on her campus.

“At the same time, I know members of Harvard’s Arab and Muslim communities are also hurting,” she said. “During these past months, the world, our nation, and our campuses have also seen a rise in incidents of Islamophobia.”

She said she has attempted to confront “hate” with “free expression.” In addition, she said that the campus has augmented mental health services.

“Antisemitism is a symptom of ignorance, and the cure for ignorance is knowledge,” Gay said.

University of Pennsylvania’s president said that she and her campus condemn Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel.

“There is no justification—none—for those terrorist attacks,” Magill said.

She noted that the hearing was taking place just days after a mob of anti-Israel protesters in Philadelphia gathered to intimidate and harass a Jewish-owned restaurant.

She said that in response to growing antisemitism around the globe and on her campus, the university has increased the presence of public safety officers at religious life centers on campus.

Magill touted that she launched a plan to combat antisemitism on Nov. 1.

“This builds on our anti-hate efforts to date, and it is anchored firmly in the United States national strategy to counter antisemitism,” she said.

The plan is focused on “safety and security, engagement, and education,” she said, noting that she also created a task force to “identify concrete, actionable recommendations.”

MIT’s president, who is Jewish, said she abhors antisemitism and condemned the Hamas attack on Israel.

Kornbluth said that, nevertheless, shutting down the language of the anti-Israel protests is wrong, and that speech needs to be “countered with other speech and education, and we’re doing that.”

The right to free speech does not give the right to harass and intimidate, she said.

“We are intensifying our central efforts to combat antisemitism, the vital subject of this hearing,” Kornbluth explained. “I note that I am also deeply concerned about the prejudice against Arabs, Muslims, and Palestinians nationally and in our community.”

Why So Much Antisemitism and Terrorism Apologia on College Campuses?

Foxx asked the university presidents to explain why it is that antisemitism and apologies for terrorists have become so pronounced on their campuses.

“The antisemitism we’ve seen on your campuses didn’t come out of nowhere—they’re cultures that your institutions foster because you have faculty and students who hate Jews, hate Israel, and are comfortable apologizing for terror,” she said.

She described the situation as one of “institutional and moral rot.”

Harvard’s president answered that to be a successful university, professors have to be able to create discussions that bring out many different viewpoints, regardless of political viewpoint.

“We’ve devoted significant resources to training our faculty in that pedagogical skill, and we are prioritizing that in our hiring,” Gay said.

University of Pennsylvania’s president said that hate is “contrary to our values” and that antisemitism “has a role in the broader society, and that’s what we are seeing happening.”

MIT’s president stated that the school’s professors have many viewpoints but that they know the campus must be a diverse and welcoming environment.

Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Wis., said a 2016 study found that 2% of the faculty of Harvard viewed former President Donald Trump “as OK or good.” He stated, “I think in the 2020 election, The Harvard Crimson, your local paper there, found 1% of the students voting for Donald Trump.”

He said that given that the nation is roughly split in half on the issue he found it shocking that there was so little ideological diversity at the university.

“Does it concern you at all that you lack ideological diversity at Harvard, and do you think that atmosphere is maybe one of the reasons why there seems to be such an outbreak of antisemitism at your institution?” he asked.

“We strive to have as diverse a faculty as we can, because we want to make sure we are sampling from the broadest pool of talent available in the world. That’s how we ensure academic excellence,” Gay responded.

Grothman interjected and pointed to the numbers again: “When you compare the way people think at your campus compared to America as a whole, if there’s one thing you are, it’s not diverse.”

Gay said she couldn’t speak to the data he was referring to, but said that at Harvard, they try to “create as much space as possible for a wide range of views and perspectives.”

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