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3 university presidents to face grilling on campus antisemitism at House hearing

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The presidents of Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Pennsylvania will be called to the mat Tuesday after weeks of backlash over their schools’ responses to surging antisemitism.  

“Over the past several weeks, we’ve seen countless examples of antisemitic demonstrators on college campuses,” House Education Committee Chair Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) said in a statement announcing the hearing titled “Holding Campus Leaders Accountable and Confronting Antisemitism.”  

The administrators, Foxx said, “have largely stood by, allowing horrific rhetoric to fester and grow.” 

The hearing will examine incidents of antisemitism on each of the campuses, with Republicans and probably Democrats chastising the presidents for their actions both before recent events and in response.  

GOP lawmakers have already called two other hearings to discuss the rise in antisemitism at American schools, bringing in experts who have said schools have not done enough and Jewish students who testified they did not feel safe on campus.

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Harvard and Pennsylvania both had billionaire donors cut their funding to the schools because of their responses.

Harvard first came under criticism in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack after 30 student-led groups posted a letter that blamed the attack on Israel. University President Claudine Gay at first hesitated to condemn the letter, leading to anger and accusations the school did not care for its Jewish students.  

The Anti-Defamation League reported 312 antisemitic incidents from Oct. 7-23 in the U.S., which is up from 64 such incidents the group found in the same period in 2022.  

And antisemitism was on the rise even before the attack in October: The FBI found antisemitic hate crimes went up 25 percent from 2021 to 2022.  

In November, UPenn had to alert the FBI about emails that were sent to university staff that were “threatening violence against members of our Jewish community, specifically naming Penn Hillel and Lauder College House,” according to President Liz Magill.

The MIT Israel Alliance wrote a letter to the university alleging that Jewish and Israeli students were at one point “physically prevented” from going to class by a “pro-Hamas” group.

At the end of November, the Department of Education announced it was investigating Harvard after complaints it did not respond to reports of harassment against Jewish and Israeli students since Oct. 7.  The department was already investigating complaints of antisemitism and Islamophobia against seven other schools, including UPenn.

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“The University’s silence in the face of reprehensible and historic Hamas evil against the people of Israel (when the only response should be outright condemnation) is a new low. Silence is antisemitism, and antisemitism is hate, the very thing higher ed was built to obviate,” former U.S. Ambassador and longtime UPenn donor Jon Huntsman said in a letter to Magill. 

An MIT student recently told The Hill the school’s administration has ignored the calls for more protection for students.  

“You have administrators and people in power making students feel so scared and unsafe on campus, and the MIT administration is fully aware of every single one of these cases,” said Talia Khan, a 25-year-old grad student.  

Republicans were on the offense at the previous hearings, saying administration leadership and diversity, equity and inclusion offices have made the situation on college campuses worse.  

“College and university presidents have a responsibility to foster and uphold a safe learning environment for their students and staff. Now is not a time for indecision or milquetoast statements,” Foxx said ahead of the Tuesday hearing. “By holding this hearing, we are shining the spotlight on these campus leaders and demanding they take the appropriate action to stand strong against antisemitism.” 

All the schools are likely to point toward the resources they have provided for students and statements they have released condemning antisemitism.  

MIT President Sally Kornbluth launched a “Standing Together Against Hate” commission to combat discrimination on campus and stepped up security. 

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There has also been “special outreach” on campus, according to a university spokesperson.  

“In addition, folks across a host of offices have been actively engaged, including the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, which encompasses MIT Hillel; the campus police, and members of our committed faculty (including those with long-time ties to Israel and the region), among others,” the spokesperson added. 

Democrats and Republicans have been united in the concerns of the rise of antisemitism but have split on how to fix it.  

In the last hearing on the subject, Education Committee ranking member Bobby Scott (D-Va.) went after Republicans for trying to cut funding from the Department of Education and Office for Civil Rights, which would handle cases of discrimination such as antisemitism.  

Democrats are also likely to highlight the rise in Islamophobia on campuses, especially after three Palestinian students were shot in Vermont over Thanksgiving weekend, leaving one of them paralyzed.  

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Source: The Hill

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