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Facing Congress, Harvard, MIT, Penn presidents defend efforts to fight antisemitism on their campuses

(JTA) – In a high-profile congressional hearing, the presidents of three of the nation’s top universities acknowledged that Jewish and Israeli students have felt unsafe on campus since Oct. 7 and said their schools were taking action to fight antisemitism.

But at times the three leaders — from Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania — did not define what kinds of antisemitic and anti-Israel speech could be formally disciplined on campus.

When New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik asked directly if “calling for the genocide of Jews” is against the universities’ respective codes of conduct, all three presidents said the answer depended on the context.

“It is a context-dependent decision,” Penn President Liz Magill responded, leading Stefanik to reply, “Calling for the genocide of Jews is dependent on the context? That is not bullying or harassment? This is the easiest question to answer ‘yes,’ Ms. Magill.”

Responding to the same question, Harvard President Claudine Gay said, “When speech crosses into conduct, we take action.” MIT President Sally Kornbluth said that such language would only be “investigated as harassment if pervasive and severe.”

Yet the presidents roundly agreed that antisemitism was a serious problem on their campuses and had grown more severe since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and the start of Israel’s war against the terror group in the Gaza Strip.

“I know some Israeli and Jewish students feel unsafe on campus,” Kornbluth said. “As they bear the horror of the Hamas attacks and the history of antisemitism, these students have been pained by chants in recent demonstrations.”

The presidents’ testimony came amid increased tensions on college campuses nationwide since Pro-Palestinian students or faculty — including at the three universities represented at the hearing — have made headlines for speech and actions on campus that a range of critics have called antisemitic or inappropriate.

Tuesday’s hearing — which lasted more than five hours and was called by the House education and workforce committee — was at least the fourth the Republican-led House has held on the subject of campus antisemitism since Oct. 7. But it was the first to summon university presidents to testify.

It came on the same day that the House endorsed a resolution initiated by the two Republicans in Congress that equates antisemitism and anti-Zionism.

Some Republicans sought to paint campus antisemitism as a product of universities embracing “the race-based ideology of the radical left,” as North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx, chair of the committee, said in her introductory remarks. Foxx said the presidents were there “to answer to and atone for the many specific instances of vitriolic, hate-filled antisemitism on your respective campuses,” and charged, “You have faculty and students that hate Jews, hate Israel.”

The university leaders all personally criticized anti-Israel activism. Magill condemned a recent pro-Palestinian-led attack on a Jewish-owned restaurant in Philadelphia that had begun with protests bordering her campus. “These protesters directly targeted a center city business that is Jewish- and Israeli-owned, a troubling and shameful act of antisemitism,” she said in her opening remarks.

But Magill would not say whether chants the protesters repeated — including one she referenced calling for “intifada” — rose to the level of incitement to violence that is punishable by the university’s code of conduct. During the Second Intifada two decades ago, Palestinian terror attacks killed an estimated 1,000 Israelis.

“The chanting, I think, calling for intifada, global revolution, [is] very disturbing,” Magill said during questioning. “I believe at minimum that is hateful speech that has been and should be condemned. Whether it rises to the level of incitement to violence under the policies that Penn and the city of Philadelphia follow, which are guided by the United States Constitution, I think is a much more difficult question. Incitement to violence is a very narrow category.”

A statue of a young Benjamin Franklin at the University of Pennsylvania. (Wikimedia)

She also demurred on how much advance action her administration was able to take against a controversial Palestinian literature festival held on campus earlier this fall, before Oct. 7, which has led the university to change its policies on guest speakers. Critics complained that speakers at the event, including former Pink Floyd member Roger Waters, had used language endorsing Israel’s destruction.

“I think canceling that conference would have been very inconsistent with academic freedom and free expression, despite the fact that the views of some of the people who came to that conference I find very, very objectionable because of their antisemitism,” she said.

Gay also did not say directly whether students chanting “intifada” on Harvard’s campus violated the university’s code of conduct.

“That type of hateful, reckless, offensive speech is personally abhorrent to me,” she said. But when asked whether Harvard would discipline it, she responded more generally, “When speech crosses into conduct that violates our policies, including policies against bullying, harassment or intimidation, we take action and we have robust disciplinary processes that allow us to hold individuals accountable.”

Schools have faced legal action and have lost out on donations from Jewish and pro-Israel advocates for their response to anti-Israel activism on campus, leading some to suspend pro-Palestinian student groups. None of the three universities represented on the panel have suspended such groups.

Jewish faculty at schools who have called for the deaths of Palestinians have also been disciplined, as have faculty members who celebrated Hamas’ attack.

Harvard in particular has come under scrutiny because Gay took days to issue a condemnation of Hamas after the Oct. 7 attacks, while a coalition of Harvard student groups immediately blamed Israel for them. She has since issued several condemnations, and said at the hearing that she would have responded sooner to the statement if she had realized it would be “wrongfully attributed to the university.”

Students walk by the Harvard Yard gate in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Sep. 16, 2021. (David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Republican Rep. Julia Letlow, of Louisiana, pushed Gay to expel the students who had signed the letter, saying it helped encourage sexual violence toward women.

The school has since become a target of donor ire, with billionaire investor and Jewish Harvard alum Bill Ackman leading a charge to punish the university by withholding donations over its responses to the Israel crisis. (Through a spokesperson, Ackman has declined to comment to JTA about his strategy, but he has frequently gone after the school on X, formerly Twitter.)

Hundreds of Jewish Harvard alums are protesting the school by only giving $1, or by directing their giving to Harvard Hillel instead.

All three presidents have been in their current positions for less than two years. They all condemned the Hamas attacks, and all affirmed Israel’s right to exist; Magill and Gay, asked directly about the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement targeting Israel, also said their schools are institutionally opposed to it.

Kornbluth, the only Jewish university president to testify, was also the only one to affirm during questioning that antisemitism training is a part of her university’s diversity, equity and inclusion office. Magill said that Penn was “in the midst” of including antisemitism training in all its anti-bigotry efforts. DEI departments have come under increased scrutiny from the right, who have increasingly claimed that they fuel campus antisemitism.

Later in the hearing, Kornbluth also advocated for increased Holocaust education as an antidote to antisemitism.

In addition to questioning from members of Congress, Penn is today under federal investigation from the U.S. Department of Education, partially connected to its holding of the Palestinian literature festival. Harvard is also facing an investigation, in its case related to an Israeli student who was reportedly attacked at a campus pro-Palestinian protest following Oct. 7.

The Rogers Building at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., is shown on Aug. 12, 2017. (Beyond My Ken via Creative Commons)

At MIT, critics from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian debate went after Kornbluth for partially suspending students who participated in a disruptive pro-Palestinian protest on campus. Supporters of the students alleged it was inappropriate for the school to take action against students for legally protected speech, while some conservative and pro-Israel groups said that Kornbluth hadn’t gone far enough.

Kornbluth’s disciplinary actions were not addressed at the hearing, though they were referenced at a Republican-led press conference held prior to the hearing. At that event, a handful of Jewish and Israeli students at MIT, Penn, Harvard and other campuses painted pictures of a university climate that was unable or unwilling to discipline antisemitism.

“The MIT administration, namely President Sally Kornbluth, has failed to address the crisis of rampant antisemitism on campus,” Jewish MIT graduate student Talia Khan, the daughter of a Jewish mother and Afghan Muslim father, said.

“What is the administration doing? We’ve brought them policy violations, proof that they happen, and the student handbook that were explicitly violated,” Jewish Harvard Law student Jonathan Frieden said. “When they respond, if at all, responses are empty and meaningless responses such as, ‘We are aware of the situation.’”

Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson quoted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the press conference.

“I think Prime Minister Netanyahu probably said it the best: This truly is a battle between good versus evil, light versus darkness, civilization versus barbarism, and the idea that this is happening on college campuses, university campuses, across this land is unconscionable to us,” he said. “This antisemitism has become all too common. It’s turning to violence in some of these places. And the idea that university administrators would not speak out, would not take care of this problem, is just beyond comprehension.”

Some Democrats on the committee also criticized the presidents for what they said was an unacceptable approach to Israel-related issues on campus. Rep. Kathy Manning, a North Carolina Democrat and former chair of the Jewish Federations of North America, grilled Gay on Harvard’s Middle East Studies courses, which she claimed included “false accusations that Israel is a racist, settler colonialist, apartheid state.”

Manning pushed Gay to say she is “absolutely committed” to ensuring that Harvard’s Middle East Studies department features a variety of perspectives on Israel.

Also testifying was Pamela Nadell, a professor of American Jewish history at American University and the Democrats’ chosen witness for the hearing.

“It is fashionable among too many members of your campus communities to hate Jews,” Foxx said to the administrators in her closing remarks. “We’ll now be watching, and I genuinely hope, for the sake of our nation, you will rise to meet the challenge.”

Ron Kampeas contributed to this report.

The post Facing Congress, Harvard, MIT, Penn presidents defend efforts to fight antisemitism on their campuses appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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‘Despicable’: Harvard Denounces Nazi-Esque Image Shared by Anti-Zionist Faculty Group

Pro-Hamas students rallying at Harvard University. Photo: Reuters/Brian Snyder

Harvard University denounced an antisemitic image depicting a Jew lynching an African American and an Arab which was released by a faculty anti-Zionist group on social media.

“The university is aware of social media posts today containing deeply offensive antisemitic tropes and messages from organizations whose membership includes Harvard affiliates,” the university said, speaking from its Instagram account. “Such despicable messages have no place in the Harvard community. We condemn these posts in the strongest possible terms.”

Harvard Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine (FSJP), a group which describes itself as a “collective” committed to falsely accusing Israel of genocide and dispossession — terms one finds on the fringes of the extreme right — initiated this latest controversy. The image it shared shows a left-hand tattooed with a Star of David containing a dollar sign at its center dangling a Black man and an Arab man from a noose. In its posterior, an arm belonging to an unknown person of color wields a machete that says, “Liberation Movement.”

“African people have a profound understanding of apartheid and occupation,” says a graphic in which the image appears. “The historical roots of solidarity between Black liberation movements and Palestinian liberation began in the late 1960s. This period was marked by a heightened awareness among Black organizations in the United States.”

It continued, “The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee [SNCC] linked Zionism to an imperial project while the Black Panther Party aligned itself with the Palestinian resistance, framing both struggles as part of a unified front against racism, Zionism, and imperialism.”

On Monday, Harvard Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine — whose 112 founding members include professors Walter Johnson, Jennifer Brody, Diane Moore, Charlie Prodger, Leslie Fernandez, Khameer Kidia, and Duncan Kennedy — apologized for sharing the image and suggested that it was unaware of its own social media activity.

“It has come to our attention that a post featuring antiquated cartoons which used offensive antisemitic tropes was linked to our account,” the group said. “We removed the content as soon as it came to our attention. We apologize for the hurt that these images have caused and do not condone them in any way.”

Two other student groups have apologized for sharing the image, according to The Harvard Crimson. In a joint statement, the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee and the African and American Resistance Organization said “our mutual goals for liberation will always include the Jewish community — and we regret inadvertently including an image that played upon antisemitic tropes.”

The past four months have been described by critics of Harvard as a low-point in the history of the school, America’s oldest and, arguably, most prestigious institution of higher education. Since the October 7 massacre by Hamas, Harvard has been accused of fostering a culture of racial grievance and antisemitism, while important donors have suspended funding for programs. Its first Black president, Claudine Gay, resigned in disgrace last month after being outed as a serial plagiarist. Her tenure was the shortest in the school’s history.

As scenes of Hamas terrorists abducting children and desecrating dead bodies circulated worldwide, 31 student groups at Harvard, led by the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) issued a statement blaming Israel for the attack and accusing the Jewish state of operating an “open air prison” in Gaza, despite that the Israeli military withdrew from the territory in 2005. In the weeks that followed, anti-Zionists stormed the campus screaming “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “globalize the intifada,” terrorizing Jewish students and preventing some from attending class.

In November, a mob of anti-Zionists — including Ibrahim Bharmal, editor of the prestigious Harvard Law Review — followed, surrounded, and intimidated a Jewish student. “Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!” the crush of people screamed in a call-and-response chant into the ears of the student who —as seen in the footage — was forced to duck and dash the crowd to free himself from the cluster of bodies that encircled him.

The university is currently being investigated by the US House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce. It was recently subpoenaed by the body after weeks of allegedly obstructing the inquiry.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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The Red Cross Has Abandoned Israeli Hostages and Its Pretense of Neutrality

A Red Cross vehicle, as part of a convoy believed to be carrying hostages abducted by Hamas terrorists during the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, arrives at the Rafah border, amid a hostages-prisoners swap deal between Hamas and Israel, as seen from southern Gaza, Nov. 24, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

The Red Cross has once again failed the Jewish people by choosing to appease its enemies rather than help those in need.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in its mission statement, claims to be “an impartial, neutral, and independent organization whose exclusively humanitarian mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence and to provide them with assistance.”

The actions of the Red Cross since October 7, however, show that it does not consider the lives and dignity of all victims to be equal. Instead, the Red Cross has fallen in line with those who refuse to condemn Hamas and ignore the atrocities perpetrated against Israelis.

This isn’t the first time that the Red Cross has ignored the suffering of Jewish people to avoid offending those who seek to eliminate the Jewish people. The Red Cross has received three Nobel Peace Prizes, including one in 1944 for its services in World War II, but decades later, we know the whole truth.

Documents released after the war revealed that the Red Cross was well aware of the Nazis’ genocide of the Jews and chose to remain silent. The Red Cross defended itself by claiming that if it had disclosed what it knew, “it would have lost its ability to inspect prisoner-of-war camps on both sides of the front.” Although the Red Cross has apologized for its inaction in confronting the Holocaust, the bias the ICRC has shown against Israel makes that apology ring hollow.

Magen David Adom, Israel’s official emergency service, was founded in 1930 and ratified as a National Red Cross Society by the Knesset in 1950. However, the Red Cross refused to allow Magen David Adom entry to the international organization because the latter wanted to use the Star of David as its symbol in place of a red cross.  Even though Muslim Red Cross organizations use a red crescent as their symbol, Israel is singled out for refusal.  Only after 76 years of life-saving work was Magen David Adom finally accepted by the ICRC in 2006.

The Red Cross has conducted itself similarly since Hamas took Israeli hostages. The Red Cross gained much acclaim for bringing Israeli hostages home after they were released. However, the Red Cross played no part in the negotiations that led to the release, and made no effort to visit the hostages while they were imprisoned.

This is in stark contrast to past hostage crises. During the Iranian hostage crisis, the Red Cross visited the occupied US embassy in Tehran. When 72 Japanese hostages were kidnapped by guerrilla forces in Peru in 1996, the Red Cross provided food and medical assistance. When New York Times reporter David Rohde was held by the Taliban in 2008, the Red Cross delivered him a letter from his wife. When more than 240 hostages were taken from Israel, however, the Red Cross did nothing.

The Red Cross responded to a recent lawsuit filed by Israeli hostages, which claims that the Red Cross neglected its duty to visit prisoners of war, by saying: “The more public pressure we seemingly would do, the more they [Hamas] would shut the door.”

The evidence shows that the Red Cross did not try very hard. UN Watch compiled a report showing that the ICRC’s social media posts were heavily biased in favor of Hamas, and refused to acknowledge Hamas’ atrocities and the plight of the Israeli hostages.

When families of the hostages asked the Red Cross to deliver life-saving medications to their family members in captivity, they were scolded and told to “think about the Palestinian side.” by the ICRC.

Since the beginning of the current war, the Red Cross has pumped millions of dollars into Gaza, along with supplies, infrastructure, and medical teams. Hamas, of course, has a long history of shamelessly stealing money and supplies that were intended for civilians, a fact that the ICRC knows, and, unsurprisingly, Hamas has continued to do so during this current war.

The Red Cross has both the leverage and the stature to gain access to the Israeli hostages and even to push for their release. They were even able to leverage the Taliban into granting access to hostages in the past. People listen to the Red Cross. But they also hear the Red Cross’ silence.

When the Red Cross speaks about the Israel-Hamas conflict without mentioning Hamas’ attacks, and its president meets with Hamas’ leader but does not advocate for Israeli hostages, the message is clear.

The Red Cross’ historical and current actions seem to suggest that it does not value Israeli lives as much as other people’s. It is time for the international community to ask the Red Cross why it looks out for all of those in need, except for Jews.

Gregg Roman is director of the Middle East Forum and a former official in the Israeli Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense.

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The Media Is Still Swallowing Hamas’ Lies About Israel

A supporter of Hamas demonstrates outside the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. Photo: Reuters/Piroschka van de Wouw

While Israel is winning its war to eliminate the existential threat posed by Hamas’ massive tunnel complex/fortress in Gaza, Israel is losing the propaganda battle against a pro-Palestinian narrative demonizing Israel’s conduct of the war. That narrative puts aside Hamas’ horrific crimes against humanity that triggered Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip, and adopts an account that Israel is “indiscriminately killing” Gazans as part of a “genocidal” campaign.

Hamas displays emotional images of Gazans massed in crowded hospital wards, or combing ruins for lost loved ones, and then proclaims to the world that there have been more than 25,000 innocent victims of Israel’s invidious conduct.

To begin with, there is no way to verify any of those numbers, or to tell who among the actual numbers killed are innocent civilians, and who are associated with Hamas and other terror groups. (Remember the hospital bombing at the start of the war, where they claimed 500 casualties, but we later learned from US intelligence analysts that far fewer were killed, and the “attack” was the result of a misfired terrorist rocket).

Furthermore, the issue is not whether Gazans have experienced dreadful suffering. They clearly have. The issue is whom to blame.

Major media outlets have frequently adopted the portrayal of Israel’s conduct in the war as a wanton destruction of Gaza, and the purposeful targeting of civilians.

Unlike Hamas, however, Israel never intentionally targets civilians — nor does it aim for wanton destruction in Gaza.

Any fair assessment of Israel’s military behavior must account for Hamas’ decision to fight in civilian areas, and use civilians and civilian infrastructure as human shields. Hamas’ vast underground fortress is accessed through shafts in or near residential buildings and public structures. Hamas also stores weaponry in civilian structures, and launches rockets and mortars from populated areas.

Experts in urban warfare confirm that the IDF has taken considerable measures to avoid civilian casualties. John Spencer teaches urban warfare at West Point Military Academy. Spencer wrote in Newsweek last week that the IDF, “has implemented more measures to prevent civilian casualties than any other military in history.”  He marvels that the IDF has delayed scheduled assaults, furnished copious advance warnings, and provided designated civilian evacuation routes before attacks.

Colonel Richard Kemp is a former British infantry battalion commander with 30 years of experience, including rounds of urban combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Kemp commends the IDF on its adherence to the laws of armed conflict — in its choice of munitions, proportionality in choosing targets according to strategic gain versus civilian risk, and advance warnings enabling civilians to evacuate. As to the leveling of civilian structures, Kemp points to the nature of Hamas’ current operations — fighters in civilian clothing moving on thoroughfares to collect weapons stashed in civilian buildings in order to carry out ambush attacks. The structures look abandoned, but may well be booby trapped or may house anti-armor weaponry.

Hamas regularly employs the stratagem of distorting and manipulating casualty figures to suit its narrative that Israel is maliciously and unjustifiably killing civilians. Hamas’ casualty counts are consistently inflated and do not distinguish between combatants and civilians. The intended implication is that only civilians have been targeted by the IDF. Mass media regularly buys into this Hamas stratagem by simply reciting Hamas’ asserted casualty figures and not mentioning when people killed are terrorists or affiliated with terror groups.

An article in the Feb. 12 New York Times by Patrick Kingsley and Hiba Yazbeck typifies the media’s willingness to slant reportage in favor of a pro-Hamas narrative. (“Israeli Raid in Rafiah Rescues 2 Hostages and Kills Dozens.”) The article was prompted by an IDF special forces raid into a Hamas stronghold, Rafah, in order to rescue two Israeli men, aged 60 and 70, who had been kidnapped on October 7 from their kibbutz and held captive for 125 days. The Times report devotes no attention to the incredible sophistication of the rescue operation — the intelligence that pinpointed the locus of captivity, the daring dispatch of a special forces unit to the heart of Hamas’ Rafah, and a coordinated execution that extracted the hostages from their heavily armed Hamas captors without unnecessarily harming civilians.

The Times article’s first sentence mentions a rescue raid, and then promptly shifts to an accusation that Israel “launched a wave of attacks that killed dozens of Palestinians…” Like Hamas in its casualty reports, the article makes no distinction between combatant and civilian deaths. There’s no mention of the fact that many of those Palestinian deaths were Hamas combatants killed as the IDF burst in to rescue the hostages, and as the IDF escaped through armed resistance in the city.

The Kingsley/Yazbeck story also glosses over the Hamas war crimes that necessitated the IDF raid. Two-thirds of the way through the article, it notes in passing that the two freed hostages had been held in captivity for over 120 days (but the article does not note that they had been violently wrenched from their kibbutz homes along with their spouses who were later ransomed or that other family members were murdered on October 7). In short, the focus on “dozens of Palestinians killed” in the rescue mission is a parroting of Hamas propaganda that Israel is engaged in malicious killing of innocent Gazan civilians.

While experts like Spencer and Kemp credit Israel with commendable adherence to the norms of warfare, there have been some ostensible IDF deviations from those norms. An IDF spokesman has acknowledged that at least on one occasion, an excessively large bomb was employed that caused unnecessary civilian casualties. In another incident, Israelis were shocked and disturbed when an IDF unit killed 3 bare-chested men advancing toward the unit while waving a white flag. (The victims turned out to be Israeli hostages who had escaped from their Hamas captors). Another report exists of an Israeli soldier shooting and killing a captive Hamas fighter following an interrogation — a clear war crime if confirmed. These possible crimes are being probed by the IDF military police and, if documented, hopefully will be punished. Hamas, by contrast, proudly flaunts its most glaring war crimes by celebrating the intentional massacre of civilians, and by demanding the return of terrorist murderers in exchange for the remaining civilian hostages.

There is no equivalence between the two sides; but the media will never tell you that story.

Norman L. Cantor is Professor of Law Emeritus at Rutgers University Law School where he taught for 35 years. He also served as visiting professor at Columbia, Seton Hall, Tel Aviv University, and Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has published five books, scores of scholarly articles in law journals, and dozens of blog length commentaries in outlets like The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, and The Algemeiner. His personal blog is He lives in Tel Aviv and in Hoboken, NJ. 

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