The heads of three US Ivy league universities have been urged to resign after they refused to say that calling for the genocide of Jews constitutes “harassment”.
The presidents of Harvard, University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) were questioned on Tuesday by a congressional committee about the rise of anti-Semitism on campus.
During the hearing, the university leaders condemned Hamas and anti-Semitism generally, but would not confirm that “calling for the genocide of Jews” was against their respective codes of conduct.
When asked by Elise Stefanik, a Republican congresswoman, whether calling for the “genocide of Jews” constitutes harrassment, Liz Magill, the president of UPenn, said it is a “context dependent decision” and “if the speech turns into conduct, it can be”.
Ms Stefanik responded: “conduct, meaning committing the act of genocide?... This is unacceptable Ms Magill.”
Pushed by Ms Stefanik, who is a Harvard alumni, to give a firm yes or no answer to the same question, Dr Claudine Gay, the president of Harvard, said: “It depends on the context.”
A visibly frustrated Ms Stefanik then responded: “It does not depend on the context. The answer is yes, and this is why you should resign. These are unacceptable answers across the board.”
Sally Kornbluth, the president of MIT, said the anti-Semitic statement would constitute harassment “if targeted at individuals, not making public statements” and it would be investigated as harassment if it was “pervasive and severe”.
‘Unfitting for leaders to harbour and foster anti-Semitism’
Following the session, Ms Stefanik told ABC News all three heads of the universities should resign because it is “unfitting” for those leaders to “harbour and foster anti-Semitism.”
“I asked a very specific question: does calling for the genocide of Jews violate their schools’ bullying and harassment policies? Not a single university president could say yes,” Ms Stefanik said.
Politicians, business leaders and Jewish groups denounced the university leaders’ responses during the hearing.
Sharing a video of the exchange, Jess Phillips, a Labour MP, questioned what context would justify such statements as acceptable.
“Surely calling for genocide full stop would breach any code of conduct anywhere. Surely. Calling for harm and violence has no need for context. What on earth could be the acceptable context? I simply don’t understand this.”
Hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman, a Harvard graduate who has been a staunch critic of how universities responded to the Oct 7 attack, called on the three university presidents to “resign in disgrace”.
The presidents of @Harvard, @MIT, and @Penn were all asked the following question under oath at today’s congressional hearing on antisemitism:
Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate [your university’s] code of conduct or rules regarding bullying or harassment?
— Bill Ackman (@BillAckman) December 5, 2023
Jewish student organisation, Harvard Hillel, said it was “appalled by the need to state the obvious: A call for genocide against Jews is always a hateful incitement of violence. President Gay’s failure to properly condemn this speech calls into question her ability to protect Jewish students on Harvard’s campus”.
US university campuses have become a hotbed for anti-Semitism following Hamas’s Oct 7 terror attack.
Harvard and UPenn are among the schools being investigated by the US Department of Education for complaints of anti-Semitism and Islamophobic discrimination.
Dr Gay said in a statement: “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.”
The Telegraph has approached UPenn and MIT for comment.