Presidents from three of the nation’s top universities refused in a House Education Committee hearing on Tuesday to admit that student calls for Jewish genocide following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel violate their codes of conduct.
The New York Times framed the hearing as a Republican-led performance to “Try to Put Harvard, M.I.T. and Penn on the Defensive About Antisemitism.” The questioning from several GOP legislators, however, showed presidents at MIT, the University of Pennsylvania, and Harvard have little to no remorse over their slow response, silence, and staunch refusal to punish students for flaunting antisemitic and anti-Western sentiments.
The repeated failure of the college presidents to condemn or punish the antisemitism plaguing higher education institutions even led Rep. Elise Stefanik, chair of the House Republican Conference, to call for their resignation.
College students across the U.S. have spent the last two months leading protests against Jews and signing statements signaling solidarity with Hamas after the terrorist group murdered 1,200 people in Israel.
The only accountability any students endorsing Jewish genocide and the end of Israel ever received came from private activists. Top donors pulled out of their funding agreements with Ivy League universities. Watchdog group Accuracy in Media paid a digital billboard truck to display the names and faces of Harvard students who signed a statement blaming Israel for Hamas’ brutal attack. Several top U.S. law firms also publicly swore off hiring openly antisemitic students.
“At MIT, does calling for the genocide of Jews violate MIT’s code of conduct or rules regarding bullying and harassment? Yes or no,” Rep. Elise Stefanik asked MIT President Sally Kornbluth during the hearing.
“I have not heard calling for the genocide for Jews on our campus,” Kornbluth insisted.
“You’ve heard chants for intifada,” Stefanik noted, referring to several protests on the Cambridge, Massachusetts campus calling Israel a “racist apartheid system.”
At least one MIT student had already confronted Kornbluth about the ongoing calls for intifada, to which she replied that “she was sorry that he felt the way he did and that they were ‘working on’ the issue.”
The same vagueness tainted her congressional testimony on Tuesday.
“I’ve heard chants which can be antisemitic depending on the context, when calling for the elimination of the Jewish people,” Kornbluth said.
When Stefanik once again asked whether those calls would “not be according to the MIT’s code of conduct or rules,” Kornbluth said they would only “be investigated as harassment” if deemed “pervasive and severe.”
Stefanik posed the same question to University of Pennsylvania President M. Elizabeth Magill who also refused to directly answer whether “calling for the genocide of Jews violate[s] Penn’s rules or code of conduct.”
“If the speech turns into conduct, it can be harassment, yes,” Magill replied. She echoed Kornbluth’s testimony by saying speech that is “directed and severe or pervasive” would be “harassment.”
“So the answer is yes,” Stefanik interjected.
“It is a context-dependent decision, congresswoman,” Magill said.
Stefanik rejected Magill’s attempt to qualify her “yes.”
“It’s a ‘context-dependent decision’? That’s your testimony today? Calling for the genocide of Jews is dependent upon the context? That is not bullying or harassment? This is the easiest question to answer ‘yes,’ Ms. Magill. So is your testimony that you will not answer yes?” Stefanik asked.
Magill doubled down, claiming again that “if the speech becomes conduct, it can be harassment.”
“Conduct meaning committing the act of genocide? The speech is not harassment? This is unacceptable, Ms. Magill. I’m going to give you one more opportunity for the world to see your answer. Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Penn’s code of conduct when it comes to bullying and harassment? Yes or no?” Stefanik pressed.
“It can be harassment,” Magill said.
“The answer is yes,” Stefanik retorted, before moving on.
Magill previously failed to explain to Rep. Jim Banks why several Penn faculty members still have their jobs after expressing antisemitism.
Stefanik, a Harvard alumna, spent the rest of her questioning time grilling Harvard President Claudine Gay over the university’s double standard on free speech.
Harvard specifically failed to swiftly push back on the more than 30 student organizations on its campus that publicly claimed Israel is “entirely responsible” for the “unfolding violence” in the Middle East. The school also slow-walked its half-hearted response to a viral video showing several terrorist sympathizers on Harvard’s campus who surrounded and harassed a Jewish man with Keffiyehs — garb associated with the pro-Palestine movement’s desire to fight Israel.
“A Harvard student calling for the mass murder of African Americans is not protected free speech at Harvard, correct?” Stefanik asked.
She interrupted Gay’s “our commitment to free speech” answer twice to clarify that “it’s a yes or no question” before pivoting to a new question.
“Let me ask you this: you are president of Harvard so I assume you are familiar with the term ‘intifada,’ correct?” Stefanik asked, to which Gay replied “I have heard that term.”
When Stefanik asked whether Gay understood that “intifada” is “indeed a call for violent armed resistance against the State of Israel, including violence against civilians and the genocide of Jews,” Gay said she considered “that type of hateful speech [to be] personally abhorrent.”
Gay acknowledged that Harvard has been home to “thoughtless, reckless, and hateful language” since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7 and even admitted that calling for the genocide of Jews is “at odds with the values of Harvard.”
When Stefanik asked why Gay wouldn’t “say here that it is against the code of conduct at Harvard,” the president claimed it would harm the university’s “commitment to free expression.”
“We embrace a commitment to free expression even of views that are objectionable, offensive, hateful – it’s when that speech crosses into conduct that violates our policies against bullying, harassment, intimidation,” Gay began.
“Does that speech not cross that barrier? Does that speech not call for the genocide of Jews and the elimination of Israel? You testified that you understand that that is the definition of ‘intifada.’ Is that speech according to the code of conduct or not?” Stefanik asked.
Gay repeated that Harvard prides itself on giving “a wide berth to free expression even of views that are objectionable, outrageous and offensive.”
“You and I both know that that is not the case,” Stefanik replied, noting reports that “Harvard previously rescinded multiple offers of admissions for applicants and accepted freshmen for sharing offensive memes, racist statements, sometimes as young as 16 years old.”
Gay rejected “that characterization of our campus” and claimed the incident Stefanik referenced “long predates my time as president.”
“You’re also aware that a Winthrop House faculty dean was let go over who he chose to legally represent. Correct? That was while you were dean,” Stefanik pointed out.
Gay claimed that was “an incorrect characterization of what transpired” but refused to comment on it further.
“Will admission offers be rescinded or any disciplinary action be taken against students or applicants who say, ‘from the river to the sea’ or ‘intifada’ advocating for the murder of Jews,” Stefanik pressed.
Gay once again refused to offer a yes or no answer.
“When speech crosses into conduct that violates our policies, including policies against bullying, harassment and intimidation, we take action. We have robust disciplinary processes that allow us to hold individuals accountable,” Gay said.
She refused to answer Stefanik’s question about what, if any, disciplinary actions “have been taken against students who are harassing and calling for the genocide of Jews on Harvard’s campus.
“Given students’ rights to privacy and our obligations under FERPA, I will not say more about any specific cases other than to reiterate that processes are ongoing,” Gay said.
Stefanik noted that the “No. 1 hate crime” in the U.S. is hate crimes against Jewish Americans, to which Gay acknowledged “there has been an alarming rise of antisemitism” since the Hamas attack.
“Harvard ranks the lowest when it comes to protecting Jewish students. This is why I have called for your resignation and your testimony today and not being able to answer with moral clarity speaks volumes,” Stefanik concluded.