newsSchools & Higher Education

Harvard, Penn presidents attempt hearing cleanup, MIT head does not

"Calls for genocide are monstrous and antithetical to everything we represent as a country," a White House spokesman said. The president did not comment directly.

The presidents of Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania testified on combating antisemitism on campus in a public hearing of the House Education and Workforce Committee on Dec. 5, 2023. Source: C-Span
The presidents of Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania testified on combating antisemitism on campus in a public hearing of the House Education and Workforce Committee on Dec. 5, 2023. Source: C-Span

“There was a moment during yesterday’s congressional hearing on antisemitism when I was asked if a call for the genocide of Jewish people on our campus would violate our policies,” Liz Magill, president of University of Pennsylvania, said in a Dec. 6 video.

“In that moment, I was focused on our university’s long-standing policies, aligned with the U.S. Constitution, which say that speech alone is not punishable,” Magill claimed. “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 being can perpetuate. It’s evil, plain and simple.”

Magill, whose official biography on the university website calls her “a legal scholar and inspiring leader,” added that Jews have been victims of antisemitic hate crimes for centuries, including the Holocaust, and said that in her view, calls for genocide of Jews “would be harassment or intimidation.” She added that the Ivy League school in Philadelphia must re-evaluate its policies.

Although the Penn president said that she was unfocused “in the moment,” Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) directed five questions to her on the topic during a House committee hearing on Dec. 5.

“Ms. Magill, at Penn, does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Penn’s rules, or code of conduct?” the congresswoman asked.

“If the speech turns into conduct it can be harassment,” Magill said. In response to another question from Stefanik, she said: “It is a context-dependent decision, congresswoman.”

“This is the easiest question to answer ‘yes,’ Ms. Magill,” Stefanik said. “I’m going to give you one more opportunity for the world to see your answer.” Stefanik has said that responses she received from Magill, and the presidents of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, left her “shaken.”

“It was abysmal. They don’t deserve the dignity of resigning. They need to be fired,” Stefanik told Fox News of the presidents.

Also on Dec. 6, Harvard released a statement from its president Claudine Gay. “There are some who have confused a right to free expression with the idea that Harvard will condone calls for violence against Jewish students,” Gay stated. “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.”

Harvard posted the statement on X but at press time, it does not appear on the president’s office portion of the university website, on the university’s handles on TikTok, LinkedIn, Facebook or YouTube. A post on the university’s LinkedIn links to coverage of the hearing in the Harvard Gazette, an official university publication. Harvard’d Instagram handle included mention of the statement in a “story,” which is ephemeral, rather than a post.

A site-wide search for text from Gay’s statement, which yielded no results, suggests that the university has not posted it anywhere on the Harvard website.

Sally Kornbluth, the president of MIT, did not apologize or clarify her remarks in a statement she released after her testimony.

U.S. President Joe Biden also has not commented directly on the testimony of the three presidents. On Dec. 6, Andrew Bates, White House deputy press secretary and senior communications adviser, said: “It’s unbelievable that this needs to be said: Calls for genocide are monstrous and antithetical to everything we represent as a country.”

“Any statements that advocate for the systematic murder of Jews are dangerous and revolting—and we should all stand firmly against them, on the side of human dignity and the most basic values that unite us as Americans,” Bates added.

That statement does appear on the White House website, a site-wide search suggested. The only U.S. government website that did return a hit for the quote was the website of Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.).

The congressman’s page reprinted a Mediaite article titled “Democrats mock Harvard president for citing commitment to free speech during antisemitism hearing: ‘Harvard ranks last’ on free speech.” The article quotes Bates.

‘Philly folk’

Biden also has not commented directly on an antisemitic protest outside a Jewish-owned falafel restaurant in Philadelphia. Bates again released a statement for the White House. “It is antisemitic and completely unjustifiable to target restaurants that serve Israeli food over disagreements with Israeli policy,” he stated.

Speaking on his podcast Three Martini Lunch, Jim Geraghty, senior political correspondent at National Review, said that it has him “seething” that “We get told very, very often that President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden are effectively, like honorary Philadelphians.”

“Obviously, President Biden is from Delaware, but Philadelphia is the closest big city. They root for the Eagles. They root for the Phillies. They make a very big deal about how Jill Biden is a Philly girl,” Geraghty said. “This is your home city, Mr. and Mrs. President,” he added, noting that Biden is slated to return to the city for the ninth time this year.

“You would think that this is the sort of thing that would hit President Biden close to home, literally and metaphorically,” Geraghty said. “The president is very fond of telling us about how he was raised in synagogues and how he went to shul more than some rabbis. OK, Mr. President. If that’s the case, now is the time to speak up.”

It’s better that a White House spokesman said something than the White House remaining silent, Geraghty said, “but that’s really quiet.”

Biden should discuss the incident on camera and on a visit to the University of Pennsylvania, he said. “I can’t help but suspect that,” he added, “if this was tiki torch-carrying white guys in polo shirts, if this was seen as something on the right, we probably would have gotten a presidential statement denouncing it immediately, right then and there.”

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