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House to probe universities after 'unacceptable' testimony on anti-Semitism

Demonstrators gather to denounce anti-Semitism at a March for Israel on the National Mall in Washington on November 14. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI
Demonstrators gather to denounce anti-Semitism at a March for Israel on the National Mall in Washington on November 14. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI

Dec. 8 (UPI) -- The House Committee on Education and the Workforce will investigate policies and disciplinary procedures at higher learning institutions over allegations of anti-Semitism amid Israel's war with Hamas.

Committee Chairwoman Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said the probe was triggered by "absolutely unacceptable" responses from presidents of three universities during congressional testimony this week on anti-Semitism on American campuses.

Harvard President Claudine Gay, MIT President Sally Kornbluth and University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill testified Tuesday, citing policies that weigh free speech rights against threatening conduct and responsibility of keeping students safe.

They have since been the target of criticism for not going far enough to denounce anti-Semitism.

"Committee members have deep concerns with their leadership and their failure to take steps to provide Jewish students the safe learning environment they are due under law," Foxx said.

House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chair Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said the committee will investigate "the learning environments at Harvard, UPenn, and MIT and their policies and disciplinary procedures." File Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI
House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chair Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said the committee will investigate "the learning environments at Harvard, UPenn, and MIT and their policies and disciplinary procedures." File Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI

"The disgusting targeting and harassment of Jewish students is not limited to these institutions, and other universities should expect investigations, as well, as their litany of similar failures has not gone unnoticed."

Foxx said her committee's investigation will include substantial document requests, and the committee will "not hesitate to utilize compulsory measures, including subpoenas, if a full response is not immediately forthcoming."

Demonstrators gather to denounce anti-Semitism at a March for Israel on the National Mall in Washington on November 14. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI
Demonstrators gather to denounce anti-Semitism at a March for Israel on the National Mall in Washington on November 14. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI

The committee made no mention of investigating Islamophobia on campuses, but Foxx said the probe will be focused not simply on anti-Semitism, but on "the learning environments," as well as the policies and discipline procedures of universities.

Students and faculty have also accused Magill of trying to silence support for Palestinians.

Demonstrators gather to denounce anti-Semitism at a March for Israel on the National Mall in Washington on November 14. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI
Demonstrators gather to denounce anti-Semitism at a March for Israel on the National Mall in Washington on November 14. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI

UPenn lost a $100 million donation from Ross L. Stevens, who said he was "appalled by the university's stance on anti-Semitism on campus."

"Its permissive approach to hate speech calling for violence against Jews and laissez-faire attitude toward harassment and discrimination against Jewish students would violate any policies or rules that prohibit harassment and discrimination based on religion," he wrote in a letter to the university.

University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill testified Tuesday, citing policies that weigh free speech rights against threatening conduct and the responsibility of keeping students safe, prompting a major donor to withdraw. Photo courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania
University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill testified Tuesday, citing policies that weigh free speech rights against threatening conduct and the responsibility of keeping students safe, prompting a major donor to withdraw. Photo courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania

In a video released after her testimony, Magill said she "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 her answer before Congress about statements calling for genocide of Jews was focused on university policy that speech alone is not punishable due to First Amendment protections, clarifying that calling for genocide would be harassment or intimidation.

After her testimony, Harvard President Dr. Claudine Gay, asserted tht "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." Photo by Will Oliver/EPA-EFE
After her testimony, Harvard President Dr. Claudine Gay, asserted tht "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." Photo by Will Oliver/EPA-EFE

In a statement released Thursday, Gay also sought to assert that the university would not tolerate calls for genocide.

"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."

MIT President Sally Kornbluth was among three university leaders who Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., called to be fired following their testimony. Photo by Will Oliver/EPA-EFE
MIT President Sally Kornbluth was among three university leaders who Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., called to be fired following their testimony. Photo by Will Oliver/EPA-EFE

The U.S. Department of Education last month launched an investigation into 57 educational institutions, including Harvard and UPenn, over alleged anti-Semitic and Islamophobic incidents on campus.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who questioned the Harvard, MIT and UPenn presidents earlier this week on whether calls for genocide against Jewish people violated university policies, said that all three university heads should be fired for their "lack of moral clarity" on the subject, in an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal.

"In the months since Oct. 7, the mainstreaming of anti-Jewish hate has been on full display at the poisoned Ivy League and other so-called elite schools, as has the gutless lack of response from university leaders," she wrote.

Reacting to Stefanik's genocide questioning, Tala Alfoqaha, a Palestinian Harvard law student, told ABC News, "I think that line of questioning is very interesting that she's asking about this hypothetical genocide that Palestinians obviously do not support when there's an actual genocide taking place against Palestinians."