Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has directed his state’s university system to streamline the transfer process for Jewish students seeking to leave a school where they have a “well-founded fear of antisemitic persecution.”
With Tuesday’s announcement, the State University System of Florida and the Florida College System will now waive certain transfer application requirements that would “otherwise unnecessarily burden” the transfer of Jewish students at a time of surging antisemitism on US college campuses. Among the directives, Florida’s public universities are now required to give students extra time to submit their applications and “waive” minimum credit requirements that could prevent or delay otherwise academically eligible students from matriculating at a new campus.
“With leaders of so-called elite universities enabling antisemitic activities rather than protecting their students from threats and harassment, it is understandable that many Jewish students are looking for alternatives and looking to Florida,” DeSantis, who is seeking the 2024 Republican nomination for president of the United States, said in a press release. “Throughout my tenure as governor, we have implemented measures to safeguard our Jewish communities from hatred in the K-20 school system, and with this announcement, we want to again make it clear that Jewish students are welcome to live and learn in Florida, where they will be respected and not persecuted due to their faith.”
DeSantis’ directive comes amid a surge in pro-Hamas demonstrations across the world. Universities in the US have been hubs of such antisemitism since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre in Israel, with students and faculty both demonizing Israel and rationalizing the Palestinian terror group’s rampage. Incidents of harassment and even violence against Jewish students have also increased. As a result, Jewish students have expressed feeling unsafe and unprotected on campuses. In some cases, Jewish communities on campuses have been forced to endure threats of rape and mass slaughter.
Additionally, in the three months since Oct. 7, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has recorded 505 antisemitic incidents on US college campuses, and during that same period, antisemitic incidents across the country skyrocketed by 360 percent compared to the prior year.
DeSantis has in the past implemented policies aimed at curbing extreme anti-Zionist activity on higher education campuses in Florida.
In October, the state’s university system, working in consultation with the governor, directed public universities to “deactivate” chapters of the national group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) for defending Hamas following the Palestinian terrorist group’s invasion of Israel and massacre of civilians earlier that month. In a memo, State University System of Florida chancellor Ray Rodrigues referenced how, following Hamas’ onslaught, the National Students for Justice in Palestine organization called for a “Day of Resistance” on college campuses across the US, distributing propaganda aimed at demonizing Israel and seemingly defending Hamas.
In Dec. 2021, DeSantis’ office issued a statement advising Florida State University not to allow the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), with which it was an institutional partner, from operating a boycott of Israel on its campus. The association at the time was considering — and later approved — an endorsement of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
DeSantis has also tackled antisemitism not directly related to Israel, signing in April a bill that was described by fellow lawmakers as “the strongest antisemitism bill in the United States.” Aimed at countering “public nuisances,” the measure bans certain forms of littering, harassment, or intimidation based on religious heritage, the projection of images onto buildings without the owner’s permission, and the malicious disruption of a school or religious assembly. Neo-Nazis and other hate groups use many of these “nuisance” tactics, such as littering areas with antisemitic leaflets.
“In the United States, you have a constitutionally protected right to say whatever you want, no matter how distasteful it is, no matter how hateful it is,” DeSantis said after signing the bill. “But you don’t have a right to threaten people, you don’t have a right to harass people, you don’t have a right to intimidate somebody, particularly on the basis of somebody’s religious affiliation.”
Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.
Texas University Plans to Close Qatar Campus Amid Scrutiny of Hamas Ties
On Thursday, the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents voted 7-1 to end its contract with the Qatar Foundation, which will result in the college’s Qatar campus shutting down over the next four years.
Texas A&M said it decided to reassess its relationship with Qatar after Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, in which the terrorist group murdered 1,200 Israelis and took more than 240 more hostage. It cites regional instability as one of the reasons for its decision. The Qatari government also has extensive ties with Hamas’ political and military leadership.
The Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development is funded by the Qatari government and is the institution that funds Texas A&M’s Qatar campus.
The Chair of the university’s Board of Regents said it “has decided that the core mission of Texas A&M should be advanced primarily within Texas and the United States.” He continued, explaining that “By the middle of the 21st century, the university will not necessarily need a campus infrastructure 8,000 miles away to support education and research collaborations.”
The decision also comes amid heightened scrutiny of Qatar’s role in American higher education — as it spent almost $5 billion on American universities between 2001 and 2021 — as well as its role in funding terrorist groups such as Hamas.
In an article for The Free Press in October, Eli Lake outlined what he saw as the significant influence Qatar is having on American higher education. He lists the universities that have gotten significant donations from Qatar, such as Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, and Northwestern. He also notes that Qatar’s influence goes beyond money, affecting policies and programs within specific academic departments as well. For example, the Qatar campus of Northwestern, which is home to the U.S.’s best journalism program, had an agreement with the terrorist-sympathetic Al-Jazeera that it would help train its students.
The significant attention paid to these relationships is likely driven by the steep increase in anti-Israel and pro-terrorist sentiment in the U.S., particularly on college campuses.
A 2023 report from the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy also concluded that concealed donations from foreign governments to U.S. educational institutions are associated with an increase in antisemitic incidents on campus and the erosion of liberal norms.
However, the Qatar Foundation believes the decision was made for political reasons. In a statement, it wrote: “It is deeply disappointing that a globally respected academic institution like Texas A&M University has fallen victim to such a campaign and allowed politics to infiltrate its decision-making processes. At no point did the Board attempt to seek out the truth from Qatar Foundation before making this misguided decision.”
There have been no indications thus far that other universities that receive a significant amount of Qatari funding, or operate campuses in Qatar, are reconsidering their relationship.
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Antisemitic Vandals Strike Hillel Building at University of Leeds in UK
The Hillel House of University of Leeds was vandalized on Thursday night, raising further concerns about a hateful campus climate and rising antisemitism across the United Kingdom, particularly since Hamas’ October 7 attacks.
The vandals, according to pictures shared online, graffitied “FREE PALESTINE” on the building and additional scribble on two window panes.
“We are heartbroken and angry that after an uplifting and inspiring Challah Bake, our JSoc Hillel House was defaced with antisemitic graffiti,” Leeds JSoc, which uses the building for club meetings, said in a statement also signed by the Union of Jewish Students, an advocacy group. “It is shocking and outrageous that those who hate us would stoop to this level.”
The groups noted that a University of Leeds professor may be responsible for leading anti-Zionist to the building, alleging that he shared its address “for the sole purpose of intimidating Jewish students on campus.”
“We are working with CST and the police to ensure that those who committed this crime get the consequences they deserve,” the group added.
Anti-Zionists extremists struck elsewhere on Thursday, storming University of Birmingham with socialists and other far-left groups while holding signs that said, “Zionists off our campus” and “75 years of illegal occupation!” Many concealed their faces, covering them with keffiyeh.
“Jewish students are feeling less and less safe at university because of these vile antisemitic acts,” National Jewish Assembly (NJA), a Jewish civil rights nonprofit, said in a statement about the incidents. “It’s time we say enough. Jewish students deserve and must feel safe on campus.”
Thursday’s incidents followed a set-back for the academic Jewish community. Earlier this week, it was announced that a UK government agency which arbitrates disputes over employment law ruled that University of Bristol lacked standing to fire sociologist David Miller, an extreme anti-Zionist who was accused of harassing Jewish students and promoting antisemitic tropes, and said his “anti-Zionist beliefs qualified as a philosophical belief and as a protected characteristic.”
Pervasive antisemitism and anti-Zionism at UK universities is forcing members of the Jewish academic community to conceal their identities on campus, according to a June 2023 report issued by the Parliamentary Task Force on Antisemitism in Higher Education, a committee of lawmakers and established by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2022 in response to complaints of anti-Jewish racism and discrimination.
“We were told it was commonplace for Jewish students to choose not to wear certain clothing or jewelry around campus because it would make them visibly identifiable as Jewish,” the Task Force wrote in the report, titled Understanding Jewish Experience in Higher Education, noting that academic staff “also raised important comparable concerns about negativity surrounding their Jewish identity.”
The Task Force recommended that all universities adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which, it said, has not, contrary to the claims of its many opponents, diminished free speech and academic freedom.
Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.
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US House Committee Threatens Harvard University With Subpoena for Antisemitism Documents
Harvard University on Wednesday was given a “final warning” to fully cooperate with the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce’s investigation of antisemitism on its campus.
In January, Chairwoman Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) gave the school, which spent the fall semester under fire for allegedly ignoring rampant antisemitic harassment and intimidation, two weeks to deliver documents relevant to the committee’s investigation. Harvard never did, and now Rep. Foxx is threatening to subpoena the material she requested.
“The committee has sought to obtain information regarding Harvard’s response to the numerous incidents of antisemitism on its campus and steps taken to protect Jewish students, faculty and staff,” Foxx wrote in a letter to Harvard University interim president Alan Garber and Harvard Corporation senior fellow Penny Pritzker.
“Harvard’s responses have been grossly insufficient,” she continued. “If Harvard continues to fail to comply with the committee’s requests in a timely manner, the committee will proceed with compulsory process.”
Foxx has requested a trove of documents, including “all reports of antisemitic acts or incidents” and “related communications” going back to 2021 that were sent to Harvard’s offices of the president, general counsel, dean of students, police department, human resources, and diversity, equity, and inclusion, among others. She also requested documentation on Harvard Kennedy School professor Marshall Ganz, who, the school determined during an investigation, “denigrated” several students for being “Israeli Jews.” Originally, Foxx gave Harvard a deadline of Jan. 23 by which to comply.
The House Committee on Education and the Workforce is also investigating other top universities, including the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to determine whether administrators at those schools ignored antisemitic discrimination. The probes were announced after the committee grilled the presidents of Harvard, Penn, and MIT about their plans to respond to rising anti-Jewish hate in their communities. During the hearing, Gay of Harvard and Elizabeth Magill of Penn — both of whom have since resigned from their positions — as well as Sally Kornbluth of MIT largely evaded lawmakers’ questions, infamously equivocating on whether calling for the genocide of Jews contravenes school rules.
For Harvard, America’s oldest institution of higher education and arguably its most prestigious, the presence of radical anti-Zionists on campus has been a persistent issue. At the start of this academic year, a student and anti-Israel activist interrupted a convocation ceremony held by the school, shouting at Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana, “Here’s the real truth — Harvard supports, upholds, and invests in Israeli apartheid, and the oppression of Palestinians!”
However, the broader public largely did not take notice until Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre in Israel. As scenes of Hamas terrorists abducting children and desecrating dead bodies circulated worldwide, 31 student groups at Harvard 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.
For her part, Gay waited several days to condemn the Hamas atrocities, and when she did, her statement said nothing about antisemitism. When she resigned at the beginning of the new year, she accused her critics of racism.
Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.
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