Amid furious backlash to the presidents of three of the top US universities refusing to explicitly say that calls for genocide of Jewish people violate campus rules on harassment during a high-profile congressional hearing Tuesday, University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill appears to walk back some of her controversial comments.
“In that moment, I was focused on our university’s longstanding policies aligned with the US Constitution, which say that speech alone is not punishable,” she says in a video posted tonight (Wednesday). “I was not focused on, but I should have been, the irrefutable fact that a call for genocide of Jewish people is a call for some of the most terrible violence human beings can perpetrate. It’s evil — plain and simple.”
“I want to be clear, a call for genocide of Jewish people is threatening—deeply so. It is intentionally meant to terrify a people who have been subjected to pogroms and hatred for centuries and were the victims of mass genocide in the Holocaust. In my view, it would be harassment or intimidation,” she adds.
She says the university would “initiate a serious and careful look at our policies.”
“In today’s world, where we are seeing signs of hate proliferating across our campus and our world in a way not seen in years, these policies need to be clarified and evaluated,” she says.
The president of Harvard University, Claudine Gay, who also appeared at the hearing yesterday, earlier issued a statement signaling that people have misunderstood her widely-panned remarks, when she said that calls on campus for genocide against Jews are not necessarily harassment.
In widely circulated video of parts of the hearing Tuesday, New York Republican Representative Elise Stefanik asks Magill, Gay, and MIT president Sally Kornbluth directly if “calling for the genocide of Jews” is against the codes of conduct of Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania, and all three presidents said the answer depended on the context.
“It is a context-dependent decision,” Magill responded at the hearing, 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, Gay said, “When speech crosses into conduct, we take action.”
Kornbluth said that such language would only be “investigated as harassment if pervasive and severe.”