US uni presidents say calls for Jewish genocide might be allowed ‘depending on context’

The heads of top universities including Harvard defended their work against antisemitism despite Jewish students saying they felt unsafe on their campuses


WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 05: (L-R) Dr. Claudine Gay, President of Harvard University, Liz Magill, President of University of Pennsylvania, and Dr. Sally Kornbluth, President of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, testify before the House Education and Workforce Committee at the Rayburn House Office Building on December 05, 2023 in Washington, DC. The Committee held a hearing to investigate antisemitism on college campuses. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

The presidents of America’s most prestigious universities have told a Congressional committee that calling for the genocide of Jews is not always against their rules.

The heads of Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania were summoned to explain what they are doing to combat outbreaks of antisemitism on their campuses.

New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik asked if “calling for the genocide of Jews” is against their codes of conduct and all three answered that is depends on “context”.

Harvard President Claudine Gay said: “When speech crosses into conduct, we take action.”

Penn President Liz Magill said: “It is a context-dependent decision.”

Stefanik shot back: “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.”

MIT President Sally Kornbluth said that such language would only be “investigated as harassment if pervasive and severe.

“I know some Israeli and Jewish students feel unsafe on campus. As they bear the horror of the Hamas attacks and the history of antisemitism, these students have been pained by chants in recent demonstrations.”

The trio were also asked about whether chanting intifada violated college rules.

Magill said: “The chanting, I think, calling for intifada, global revolution, [is] very disturbing.

“I believe at minimum that is hateful speech that has been and should be condemned. Whether it rises to the level of incitement to violence under the policies that Penn and the city of Philadelphia follow, which are guided by the United States Constitution, I think is a much more difficult question. Incitement to violence is a very narrow category.”

Gay said: “That type of hateful, reckless, offensive speech is personally abhorrent to me.

“When speech crosses into conduct that violates our policies, including policies against bullying, harassment or intimidation, we take action and we have robust disciplinary processes that allow us to hold individuals accountable.”

Tuesday’s hearing lasted more than five hours and was called by the House education and workforce committee.

North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx, chair of the committee, said the presidents had “to answer to and atone for the many specific instances of vitriolic, hate-filled antisemitism on your respective campuses.

“You have faculty and students that hate Jews, hate Israel.”

Jewish Harvard Law student Jonathan Frieden was among a number who said it was all just words.

“What is the administration doing? We’ve brought them policy violations, proof that they happen, and the student handbook that were explicitly violated,” he said.

“When they respond, if at all, responses are empty and meaningless responses such as, ‘We are aware of the situation’.”

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