Over 70 US lawmakers have demanded the governing bodies of Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology remove their presidents for their reluctance to label calls for the genocide of Jews harassment during a recent congressional hearing.
Republican Representative Elise Stefanik and Democratic Representative Jared Moskowitz are the main signatories on a letter demanding the university chiefs be removed to prevent “an act of complicity in their antisemitic posture,” the Reuters news agency reported.
“Testimony provided by presidents of your institutions showed a complete absence of moral clarity and illuminated the problematic double standards and dehumanization of the Jewish communities that your university presidents enabled,” the letter charged.
“There is no context in which calls for the genocide of Jews are acceptable rhetoric. Their failure to unequivocally condemn calls for the systematic murder of Jews is deeply alarming,” the letter read.
“It stands in stark contrast to the principles we expect leaders of top academic institutions to uphold. It is hard to imagine any Jewish or Israeli student, faculty, or staff feeling safe when presidents of your member institutions could not say that calls for the genocide of Jews would have clear consequences on your campus,” the lawmakers said.
They added that the boards must work to ensure the safety of Jewish and Israeli students.
The demand added to the wave of backlash the university presidents faced after their appearances Tuesday, which has included criticism from Democrats and Republicans, and internal pressure for change from within the tertiary institutions.
Stefanik, during her line of questioning Tuesday, likened calls by some student protesters for a new intifada — an Arabic word for uprising that harks back to the first Palestinian revolt against Israel in 1987, and a second, even more violent one from 2000 to 2005 — to inciting “genocide against the Jewish people in Israel and globally.”
When asked if “calling for the genocide of Jews” violates their universities’ codes of conduct, the three presidents said it would depend on the context. The three did all condemn antisemitism and some anti-Israel activism. And they termed some of the anti-Israeli rhetoric as “disturbing” and “abhorrent” to them personally. But they were not clear that calls for genocide broke university rules.
While Harvard’s President Claudine Gay has apologized for her remarks and Pennsylvania’s Liz Magill walked back some of her comments, MIT’s Sally Kornbluth has remained silent.
The Massachusetts school’s governing body on Friday backed Kornbluth, praising her “outstanding academic leadership, her judgment, her integrity, her moral compass, and her ability to unite our community around MIT’s core values.”
Stefanik, who studied at Harvard, announced Wednesday that the House Education and Workforce Committee would be “launching an official congressional investigation with the full force of subpoena power” into the three universities, and others.
In her statement following the outrage, Gay said: “There are some who have confused a right to free expression with the idea that Harvard will condone calls for violence against Jewish students. Let me be clear: Calls for violence or genocide against the Jewish community, or any religious or ethnic group are vile. They have no place at Harvard, and those who threaten our Jewish students will be held to account.”
Magill said she had allowed free speech concerns to outweigh other considerations.
“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 said in a video.
“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,” she said Wednesday. “It’s evil — plain and simple.”
Magill said the university would “initiate a serious and careful look at our policies.”