(JTA) — Harvard University, Columbia University and the University of Tampa have joined an expanding list of schools under federal investigation for alleged failure to respond to antisemitism on campus.
Meanwhile, Harvard’s president has been summoned to address Congress about campus hostilities connected to the Israel-Hamas war, and the University of California, Berkeley, faces a new lawsuit over antisemitism that students there charge is “unchecked.”
The U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights office added the universities to its list of active investigations over the last week, just days after announcing seven other new investigations related to antisemitism or Islamophobia. The new investigation means that Columbia is now on the list twice. While the department does not share details of its investigations, independent reports say all three involve allegations of antisemitism.
The federal investigation at Harvard was opened Tuesday. According to a Fox News report quoting an anonymous Harvard graduate and a letter from the education department’s civil rights office, it concerns a incident in October when pro-Palestinian students allegedly assaulted an Israeli student at the Harvard Business School.
The student was accosted while he tried to film a “die-in” protest on campus, according to the Harvard Crimson student newspaper; the Crimson also identified one person who laid hands on the alleged victim as a Harvard Law Review member.
Harvard was one of the first schools to come under national scrutiny after several student groups signed an open letter on Oct. 7 that blamed Israel entirely for Hamas’ attack that day. Harvard President Claudine Gay took several days to issue a series of statements condemning Hamas, prompting further criticism. Some major pro-Israel boosters of the school, including the Wexner Foundation, cut ties in response.
Gay will appear Dec. 5 in a Congressional hearing on campus antisemitism — at least the fourth such hearing the House has conducted since Oct. 7 — alongside the presidents of the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Both schools have also been caught up in their own controversies related to the war. MIT drew criticism over its decision to partially suspend students who held a pro-Palestinian sit-in, while Penn is the subject of its own federal investigation partially related to a Palestinian literature festival it held prior to Oct. 7.
The Columbia and University of Tampa cases, both opened Nov. 20, also both reportedly concern incidents that predate the Oct. 7 attacks. According to Bloomberg, the Columbia probe dates back to a 2019 complaint by Jonathan Karten, an undergraduate represented by the pro-Israel legal group Lawfare Project. At the time, Karten alleged that a professor ridiculed him and claimed he “is Mossad,” the Israeli intelligence agency. Karten, a former sergeant in the Israel Defense Forces, also said members of Students for Justice in Palestine called him a “Zionist pig.”
While the university did investigate Karten’s claim at the time, it took no formal action. The Lawfare Project decided to re-up his claim in the wake of Oct. 7, telling Bloomberg it “mirrors and even foreshadows events currently occurring at Columbia,” where anti-Israel campus activity has turned increasingly militant and where the university has banned its Jewish Voice for Peace and SJP chapters for the remainder of the semester.
The University of Tampa case, meanwhile, concerns an incident that the university says took place in September. A Tampa Bay Times report quotes from a letter sent by the parent of a Jewish student to the university president, detailing a Sept. 23 incident in which the student was accosted with antisemitic slurs while walking to his friend’s dorm.
The students broke out in a fight, and the Jewish student was put in a chokehold and punched, according to the report. He filed a police report; the student who attacked him later apologized on Instagram, and the university conducted a hearing into the matter.
But the father, Stuart Messiner, told the local newspaper that the university’s response was “absurd.” Its conduct board, he said, had determined that allegations of antisemitism were “uncorroborated” because the students didn’t know each other; it further disciplined the Jewish student along with his attackers and ordered him to write a letter of apology, which his father has refused to let him do.
Messiner went on to accuse the university of being “guilty of antisemitism too” because of its “flagrant refusal to consider this case for what it is — the case of a young man defending himself and his cherished heritage against bigots and bullies.”
“The university is fully cooperating with the request for information but cannot comment further due to student privacy laws,” a spokesperson for the university told local reporters.
The Department of Education has opened seven other probes that it said are directly tied either to antisemitism or Islamophobia since Oct. 7. (The civil rights office has opened additional investigations into a handful of K-12 school districts, but no information was available on them at press time.) Opening an investigation does not mean the Department of Education believes it has merit, only that it has determined the allegations fall under its purview.
In other campus news, a lawsuit filed against UC Berkeley by the pro-Israel legal group Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law accuses the university of not more forcefully punishing anti-Zionist law student groups in 2022, saying their bans of outside speakers who support Zionism effectively “exclude Jews.” That case is also under active investigation by the Department of Education.
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‘American Leadership Will Not Waver’: Senate Passes $95.3 Billion Aid Package for Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan
After months of negotiations, the Senate passed a $95.3 billion aid package for Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan on Tuesday by a vote of 70-29.
The bill, if signed by President Biden, would provide $14 billion in military assistance to Israel to help it replenish the Iron Dome and weapons that can help it defeat Hamas. While US President Joe Biden supports the bill, it is not certain to pass the House of Representatives.
The aid package gives $9.2 billion for humanitarian aid to the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, along with people in Ukraine and other war zones. However, it is well documented that much of the aid to Gaza does not reach Palestinian civilians but instead goes to Hamas.
The bill also provides about $5 billion toward countering Chinese aggression and $2.5 billion for fighting the Houthis as they continue to terrorize civilian ships in the Red Sea, disrupting global trade.
In the immediate aftermath of the vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said the bill’s passage showed “that American leadership will not waver, not falter, not fail.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnel (R-KY) said, in a statement, that “Our adversaries want America to decide that reinforcing allies and partners is not in our interest, and that investing in strategic competition is not worth it. They want us to take hard-earned credibility and light it on fire.”
“But today,” he wrote, “the Senate responded by reaffirming a commitment to rebuild and modernize our military, restore our credibility, and give the current Commander-in-Chief, as well as the next, more tools to secure our interests.”
More progressive members of the Senate objected to funding Israel in its war against Hamas. Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), called the idea of voting for Israel funding “unconscionable.” He wrote, “This bill provides Netanyahu $10 billion more in unrestricted military aid for his horrific war against the Palestinian people. That is unconscionable. I will vote NO on final passage.”
Some conservatives also voted against the bill because it did not include provisions to secure the U.S.’s southern border. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), released a statement making clear that while “It is important that Israel eradicates Hamas, that Taiwan remains resilient against China’s threats, and that Ukraine defeats Russia,” he would vote for the bill “only after America’s border is secured.”
The bill faces an uphill battle to pass in the House, where Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has suggested provisions will have to be added to secure the southern border for him to bring it to the floor for a vote.
He said, “House Republicans were crystal clear from the very beginning of discussions that any so-called national security supplemental legislation must recognize that national security begins at our own border.“
Johnson continued, “In the absence of having received any single border policy change from the Senate, the House will have to continue to work its own will on these important matters.”
Police are investigating after a group of anti-Israel protesters targeted Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital
Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, a century-old Canadian medical institution originally built for Jewish doctors and patients who faced discrimination but which now treats all the city’s residents, became the latest target of anti-Israel protests on Feb.12. Protesters took over portions of southbound University Avenue with one individual climbing a scaffold and waving the Palestinian flag […]
Yeshiva Loses its Ninth Student in War in Gaza
Israelis on Monday woke up to bittersweet news: the good was the successful rescue of two hostages from the Gaza Strip. The bad, that three soldiers, Maj. Gen. Ziv Chen, Lt. Col. Nathaniel Elkoubi, and Maj. Yair Cohen were killed in separate fighting in the Strip.
Chen, 27, from Kfar Saba, was a graduate of a religious Zionist yeshiva in southern Israel which has now lost nine students in the war against Hamas in Gaza.
“We wanted to believe that we had finished paying the heavy price,” the head of the yeshiva, Rabbi Chaim Wolfson, told Hebrew media.
The yeshiva, Yeruham Hesder, is a program for observant Israelis who wish to combine regular military service with Torah study. A longer program than regular enlistments – five years total – there are thousands of students every year participating.
“We have lost a mainstay of the Beit Midrash (study hall). Ziv, as his name is, was all light,” Rabbi Wolfson added. “A loving and beloved man, I will bless you, everything he did was with infinite love. He loved people, loved the Torah, and everything he was involved in was done wholeheartedly.”
Chen was set to celebrate his wedding anniversary this upcoming Sunday with his wife Hillel, his family said.
At the funeral, held on Tuesday in his hometown, accompanied by hundreds of Israelis paying their respects, his uncle, Danny Chen, said about the fallen soldier: “He was a salt of the earth, a brilliant yeshiva student who loved the Land of Israel. He was a walking encyclopedia, very knowledgeable. Saturday night, two weeks ago, I saw him for the last time, always hugging and kissing. An exemplary child, a great loss. We are all shocked and hurt.”
The organization overseeing the Hesder yeshivot, the Hesder Yeshiva Association, released a statement that said, “We bitterly mourn the death of the soldier Maj. Gen. Ziv Chen, a fighter in the Givati Brigade, student of the Hesder Yeshiva Yeruham, who fell in the war. On behalf of the leaders of the Hesder Yeshivas and all the rabbis and students, we embrace the family, the the rabbis of the yeshiva, its students and graduates, and pray for an overwhelming victory of our heroic soldiers over our vile and cruel enemies. May his soul be wrapped in the bundle of life.”
The three soldiers who perished on Monday were the victims of an IED explosion in Khan Younis in southern Gaza, where the IDF has been concentrating its fighting for the last few weeks.
As mentioned, Chen is the ninth soldier to fall during the war from the Yeroham Yeshiva. The other eight are: Sergeant Ariel Eliyahu, 19, Staff Sergeant Yanon Fleishman, 31, First Sergeant Eitan Dov Rosenzweig, 21, Captain Eitan Fish, 23, Sergeant Yakir Yedidia Shankolevsky, 21, Advanced Sergeant Gideon Ilani, 35, First Sergeant Elisha Levinstern, 38, and First Sergeant Ephraim Yachman, 21.