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House of Representatives Questions College Presidents About Antisemitism

Presidents from Harvard, M.I.T., and the University of Pennsylvania testified in front of a House of Representatives committee during the first week of December. The Republican-led committee asked the three female presidents about their responses to rising antisemitism on college campuses. Since Hamas' actions on October 7 and Israel's response to those actions, antisemitism and Islamaphobia have become more widespread and overt at U.S. colleges. 

One part of the hearings garnered the most attention in media reports. Congress members asked the presidents whether there would be consequences on their respective campuses in response to calls for genocide toward Jewish people. None of the presidents would respond unequivocally yes. Harvard's president, Claudine Gay, said that type of language did not automatically constitute bullying or harassment and that it needed to cross into conduct before taking action. The following day, Dr. Gay publicly stated that calls for violence and genocide had no place at Harvard and that "those who threaten our Jewish students will be held to account." Elizabeth Magill, president of Penn, apologized the next day for her testimony and backtracked, saying calling for genocide of Jewish people is harassment.

Reaction to the hearings has been fierce, with calls for all three presidents to lose their jobs. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand publicly agreed that all three should leave their posts, stating that calling for the genocide of any group is harassment. A prominent rabbi resigned from Harvard's antisemitism committee because he found antisemitism is too entrenched at Harvard. Magill resigned on Saturday as did Penn Board of Trustees Chair Scott L. Bok. Harvard President Claudine Gay received the unanimous support of the university’s board, Harvard’s highest governing body.