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US Lawmakers Grill Elite University Presidents on Raging Campus Antisemitism

University of Pennsylvania President Elizabeth Magill testifies about campus antisemitism before the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Dec. 5, 2023. Photo: Screenshot

US lawmakers on Tuesday held a highly anticipated hearing on surging antisemitism at American universities, with members of both political parties directing sharp questions at three elite university presidents about deep hostility to Israel and the Jewish community on their campuses.

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce organized the hearing — titled “Holding Campus Leaders Accountable and Confronting Antisemitism” — amid an alarming spike in antisemitic incidents, including demonstrations calling for Israel’s destruction and the intimidation and harassment of Jewish students, at college campuses across the US.

Some of America’s most elite universities have become hubs of such activity, including Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania (Penn), and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

For over three hours, presidents Claudine Gay of Harvard, Elizabeth Magill of Penn, and Sally Kornbluth of MIT largely evaded questions about the consequences of antisemitic incidents on their campuses, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act — which governs access to educational information and records by public entities — while declining to confirm whether students had been disciplined for antisemitic harassment.

All three administrators vowed to vigorously combat antisemitism but denied that their universities were responsible for fostering it, calling the rise in anti-Jewish hate a societal problem.

Addressing Jewish students’ complaints of anti-Israel bias in the classroom, Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI) asked Gay whether a lack of intellectual diversity on elite college campuses tips the balance of ideas in favor of far left academics who use their platforms to promote extremist anti-Zionist viewpoints.

“What I’m focused on is making sure that we are bringing the most academically talented faculty to the campus and that they’re effective in the classroom,” Gay said.

Magill also came under fire. Since September, her administration has been excoriated for refusing to cancel an anti-Zionist festival that featured several speakers who have been accused of promoting antisemitic conspiracies and violence against Israel. The school refused to cancel the event or ask that it be hosted off-campus. Last month, Magill expressed regret and apologized for not promptly condemning the festival.

“Antisemitism has no place at Penn, and our free speech policies are guided by the United States Constitution,” Magill said, responding to questions about former Pink Floyd vocalist Roger Waters’ invitation to the event. A recent documentary exposed several of Waters’ inflammatory antisemitic statements.

“Our approach to speech, as I identified, it follows and is guided by the United States Constitution, which allows for robust perspectives,” Magill said.

During questioning by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), who was recently accused of minimizing the Hamas terror group’s mass rapes of Israeli women during its Oct. 7 massacre, Kornbluth said she was “deeply troubled” by recent events and overseeing several faculty attempts aimed at cooling the campus climate.

“There have been lunches, there have been meetings for our Israeli and Jewish students with Jewish faculty, for our Arab students with Arab and Muslim faculty, but now they’re working to figure out how to bring them together,” she said. “If we’re all going to live together and work together collectively, we have to move beyond formal training, which we are committed to, but to actually real dialogue, and to actually model constructive and civil dialogue for our students. That’s what being in university is all about.”

MIT officials last month told Jewish students to avoid the campus’ main building after it was taken over by anti-Israel activists.

During Tuesday’s hearing, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers condemned antisemitism but also blamed the other side for allowing anti-Jewish hate to fester.

Republicans on the committee alleged that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs supported by the political left have fostered the kinds of tribalism that unleash antisemitism, and that progressives coddled pro-Hamas supporters. Democrats, meanwhile, claimed that Republicans have ignored Islamophobia and aimed to defund federal institutions that monitor civil rights violations.

Nonetheless, attempts were made at bipartisanship. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), the committee’s chairwoman, quoted a Nov. 29 speech by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) denouncing antisemitism, although she argued he fell short of recognizing how “race-based ideology” has augmented the problem.

“Senator Schumer hasn’t put the pieces together, but the picture is all too clear now to American Jews,” Foxx said to the university presidents. “Institutional antisemitism and hate are among the poison fruits of your institution’s cultures.”

Throughout her remarks, Foxx linked what she described as Harvard’s far left curriculum to its students blaming Israel for the Hamas atrocities across southern Israeli communities on Oct. 7. In the aftermath of the onslaught, and amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, anti-Israel students at Harvard mobbed a Jewish law student, surrounded him, and screamed “Shame!” into his ears.

In his opening remarks, the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), argued that antisemitism on college campuses “did not start with diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives,” while charging that Republicans squandered previous opportunities to discuss campus discrimination.

“While my colleagues claim to be committed to combating discrimination on campus, they’re also contradictorily and simultaneously stoking culture wars that can be divisive and discriminatory,” Scott charged. “Moreover, House Republicans are proposing significant cuts to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, the very office responsible for upholding students’ civil rights and investigating discrimination claims. You can’t have it both ways.”

Tuesday’s hearing came days after a new poll, released by Hillel International, found that 37 percent of Jewish college students have felt the need to hide their Jewish identity on campus since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre, in which some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were murdered and 240 others taken as hostages into Gaza. The survey also found that 35 percent of respondents said there have been acts of hate or violence against Jews on campus. A majority of those surveyed said they were unsatisfied with their university’s response to those incidents.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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ACLU Threatens Lawsuit Against Columbia University

Anti-Israel students protest at Columbia University in New York City. Photo: Reuters/Jeenah Moon

The New York chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a far-left nonprofit, is threatening to sue Columbia University unless the school nullifies disciplinary sanctions which temporarily suspended anti-Zionist groups that staged unauthorized demonstrations on campus.

“The referenced ‘unauthorized event’ was a peaceful demonstration and temporary art installation advocating for the end of Israel’s current military campaign in the Gaza strip,” the group wrote in a letter to Columbia University president Minouche Shafik. “Columbia’s actions suggest impermissible and pretextual motives for sanctioning the student groups.”

The ACLU also accused the university, which is being sued for allegedly standing by while pro-Hamas students beat up Jews and screamed antisemitic slogans, of perpetuating “already pervasive dangerous stereotypes about Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims” and other minority groups.

“These student groups were peacefully speaking out on a critical global conflict, only to have Columbia University ignore their own longstanding, existing rules and abruptly suspended the organizations,” ACLU executive director Donna Lieberman said in a press release issued on Friday. “That’s retaliatory, it’s targeted, and it flies in the face of the free speech principles that institutes of higher learning should be defending.”

Columbia University suspended Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) in Nov., explaining in a statement that the groups had “repeatedly violated university policies related to holding campus events, culminating in an unauthorized event Thursday afternoon that proceeded despite warnings and included threatening rhetoric and intimidation.” Both SJP and JVP have been instrumental in organizing disruptive anti-Israel protests on Columbia’s campus since Hamas invaded Israel on Oct. 7 and killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

“Lifting the suspension will be contingent on the two groups demonstrating a commitment to compliance with university policies and engaging in consultations at a group leadership level with university officials,” a campus official said at the time, adding that the groups will be ineligible to hold events on campus or receive university funding for the duration of the punishment.

Even after being disciplined, however, SJP members continued their activities in front groups — such as Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD), a non-campus affiliated group that supports the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement — staging more protests in flagrant violation of the terms of its suspension.

ACLU’s portrayal of pro-Hamas students as peaceful and artistic victims of racism is in tension with how Jewish Columbia students have described their behavior and the university’s response to it.

“F— the Jews,” “Death to Jews,” “Jews will not defeat us,” and “From water to water, Palestine will be Arab,” they have chanted on campus grounds since Oct. 7, violating the school’s code of conduct, a lawsuit filed against Columbia University by last week says. In other incidents, they beat up five Jewish students in Columbia’s Butler Library and attacked another with a stick, lacerating his head and breaking his finger.

Anti-Jewish violence and hatred became so common, the lawsuit alleged, that Columbia told Jewish students that campus security could no longer guarantee their safety.

SJP insisted in Friday’s press release that its members are the victims and suggested that those claiming to be advocates of social justice are beyond reproach.

“Columbia University likes to showcase itself to the world as a champion of student protest, equality, justice, and free speech — but the university’s actions in the lead up to our suspension, and its targeted punishment of our student groups, showed that it is all a farce,” SJP member Safiya O’Brien said. “As students of conscience, we know injustice when we see it. The university’s priorities are not with its student body — certainly not with its Palestinian students and the overwhelming number of those that advocate for them.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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Low Expectations Ahead of Palestinian ‘Unity’ Talks in Moscow Convened by Russian Regime

Posters on a wall in Tel Aviv highlighting the plight of Israeli hostages seized by Hamas. Photo: Reuters/Dylan Martinez

Representatives of Palestinian factions are traveling to Moscow this week for talks aimed at forging a greater degree of unity, but analysts remained skeptical that the Russian initiative is likely to register progress.

The talks, which are scheduled to begin on Wednesday, will bring together officials of the Islamist terrorist organizations Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) with representatives of PLO factions including Fatah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). Announcing the talks last week, Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov told pro-regime media outlets that “all Palestinian representatives who are located in different countries, in particular in Syria and Lebanon, other countries in the region,” would be invited to the Moscow parley, emphasizing at the same time that Russia’s rulers continue to regard the PLO — the main power in the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA) — as “the sole legal representative of the Palestinian people.”

Several regional policy analysts argued that expectations from the talks should be necessarily limited, especially as Russia has failed in past efforts to bring rival Palestinian factions closer together.

“Russia does not have any road map for the Palestinian file, especially for the Gaza Strip as it would be necessary to have mediation functions and maintain good contacts with both Israel and the paramilitary wing of Hamas in Gaza,” Ruslan Suleymanov — an independent Middle East expert based in Baku, Azerbaijan — told the German broadcaster DW on Monday.

Suleymanov said that the talks were primarily an opportunity for Russian President Vladimir Putin to showcase Russia’s geopolitical clout amid its ongoing invasion of Ukraine and with elections — which Putin is expected to win easily — on the calendar in March.

“It’s really just dialogue for dialogue’s sake,” Suleymanov remarked.

Hugh Lovatt — senior policy fellow with the Middle East and North Africa Program at the European Council on Foreign Relations — offered a similar perspective.

“This Russian summit is a way to show that Russia has the diplomatic capacity to play a hands-on role in supporting Palestinian national unity,” he told DW. However, previous reconciliation talks that were hosted in Moscow, Algiers and Cairo have “also not succeeded in brokering a lasting reconciliation deal between the rivals,” he said.

A potential obstacle to the talks emerged on Monday with the resignation of the PA’s Prime Minister, Muhammad Shtayyeh, who had enthusiastically backed the Moscow talks in a speech at the Munich Security Conference earlier this month. The PA has been under increasing pressure from the US to form a more representative government that would be in a position to manage the Gaza Strip once hostilities end.

“The decision to resign came in light of the unprecedented escalation in the West Bank and Jerusalem and the war, genocide and starvation in the Gaza Strip,” Shtayyeh told PA President Mahmoud Abbas in a formal letter.

“I see that the next stage and its challenges require new governmental and political arrangements that take into account the new reality in Gaza and the need for a Palestinian-Palestinian consensus based on Palestinian unity and the extension of unity of authority over the land of Palestine,” he added.

A Hamas spokesman told the Saudi channel Al Arabiya on Sunday that the terrorist group wants to form “an impartial national government based on the consensus of the Palestinian factions,” adding that the talks in Moscow would focus only on “a certain period and clear tasks.”

Separately, Hamas politburo member Muhammad Nazzal told the pro-Hamas website Middle East Monitor that the Moscow meeting was necessary because there had been “no official communication” with the PA on the subject of post-war planning.

Nazal claimed in the same interview that Hamas remained a powerful force in the Gaza Strip, where it continues to hold hostage more than 100 of the 240 people seized during its pogrom in southern Israel on Oct. 7. “Rumours of Rafah in the south of being the last stronghold of Hamas are false; the resistance exists across the entire Gaza Strip,” Nazzal said. “Moreover, the movement is fighting a fierce political negotiating battle, no less than the battle it is waging on the ground.”

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Harvard Professor Resigns From Antisemitism Task Force

Demonstrators take their “Emergency Rally: Stand with Palestinians Under Siege in Gaza” out of Harvard University and onto the streets of Harvard Square, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., October 14, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Internal tension and disagreement have caused a member of Harvard University’s Presidential Task Force on Antisemitism to resign as co-chair, The Harvard Crimson reported on Monday.

Raffaella Sadun, a Harvard Business School professor, reportedly left the group —which was formed to issue recommendations for addressing anti-Jewish hatred on the campus — because the university would not guarantee that the task force’s guidance would be implemented as official school policy. Her aggravation has been mounting for “some time,” the paper added, but she declined to cite conflict as the reason for her departure.

“I am grateful to have had the opportunity to help advance the vital work to combat antisemitism and believe that [interim Harvard University] President Garber has assembled an excellent task force,” Sadun said. “I will continue to support efforts to tackle antisemitism at Harvard in any way I can from my faculty position.”

In a statement, interim president Garber told The Harvard Crimson that Sadun had “expressed her desire” to get back to “research, teaching, and administrative responsibilities.”

“I am extremely appreciative of Professor Sadun’s participating in the task over the past few weeks,” Garber said. “Her insights and passion for this work have helped shape the mandate for the task force and how it can best productively advance the important work ahead.”

Announced in January, the Presidential Task Force on Antisemitism is Harvard University’s response to years of antisemitic incidents that earned the school the distinction of being labeled the most antisemitic campus in American higher education by education watchdog AMCHA Initiative. A now defunct group had been created by former president Claudine Gay, the Antisemitism Advisory Group, amid an explosion of antisemitic activity on campus following Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7.

Gay eventually resigned from her position after providing controversial answers to a congressional committee about her efforts to manage the problem and being outed as a serial plagiarist. In her absence, Garber pushed ahead with forming task forces for addressing both antisemitism and Islamophobia.

Since then, the antisemitism group’s membership have stirred controversy and speculation. In January, Jewish community activists and nonprofit leaders criticized its naming history professor Derek Penslar as a co-chair because, in his writings and public remarks, he had described concerns about rising antisemitism at Harvard as “exaggerated” and blamed Israel for fostering anti-Zionism. According to the Crimson, Penslar considered resigning but decided against doing so. In Jan., Rabbi David J. Wolpe stepped down from the group, saying in a statement on X that “both events on campus” and Gay’s congressional testimony “reinforced the idea that I cannot make the sort of difference I had hoped.”

Last week, the school issued a statement denouncing another antisemitic outrage, a faculty anti-Zionist group’s posting on social media an antisemitic cartoon which showed 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. The group’s leader, professor Walter Johnson, has since resigned as a member.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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