Presidents of Harvard, MIT, Penn Face Congressional Scrutiny Over Antisemitism, as Students Report Death Threats on Campus

Students from the same schools also visited Capitol Hill to tell lawmakers about their own experiences on campus since October 7.

AP/Mark Schiefelbein
Harvard President Claudine Gay, left, speaks as University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill listens during a hearing of the House Committee on Education on Capitol Hill, Tuesday. AP/Mark Schiefelbein

While the presidents of Harvard, MIT, and Penn appeared before Congress today to be scrutinized about antisemitism at America’s prestigious universities, students from those same Ivies and other schools said they’ve been met with death threats and other forms of harassment on campus.

The university presidents testified before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, headed by Congresswoman Virginia Foxx. Lawmakers vigorously probed the heads of the three of the nation’s top schools, which have come under fire from influential donors, alumni, and elected officials in recent weeks for failing to quell surging antisemitism.

“Abhor” was the word of the day, invoked repeatedly by the three presidents during their opening statements and responses to committee members. “As an American, as a Jew, as a human being, I abhor antisemitism,” asserted the president of MIT, Sally Kornbluth. “There is no justification” for Hamas’s attacks on October 7th, said the president of Penn, Elizabeth Magill. 

“In the two months since the atrocities of October 7th,” said Harvard’s president, Claudine Gay, who spoke first, “and the subsequent armed conflict and humanitarian crisis in Gaza, we have seen a dramatic and deeply concerning rise in antisemitism, around the world, in the United states, and on our campus, including my own.”

Each president outlined their schools’ efforts to expand campus security measures and bolster mental health services. They cited their various statements condemning the antisemitic and Islamophobic behavior that has thrived on their campuses since Hamas’s attack on Israel. 

“We have also repeatedly made clear that we at Harvard reject antisemitism and denounce any trace of it on our campus and within our community,” said Ms. Gay, who assumed her post at the nation’s oldest university this summer. She said she has worked to “confront hate” while also “preserving free expression” on campus. “This is difficult work,” she said. “And I know I have not always gotten it right.”

Ahead of these testimonies, four students from Harvard, MIT, Penn, and New York University spoke before House Republicans about their harrowing experiences with campus antisemitism. “Being a Jew at NYU,” said a junior at the university, Bella Inger, “has meant being physically assaulted in NYU’s library by a fellow student while I was wearing an American-Israeli flag, and having my attacker still roam freely throughout the campus.”

“It is being surrounded by ‘social justice warriors’ and self-proclaimed feminists,” Ms. Inger added, “whose calls for justice end abruptly when the rape victims are Jews.” Yet she declared, “I’m a proud Jew, and I’m a proud Zionist. I’m the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. We are not going anywhere.”

A postdoctoral fellow at MIT and the president of the school’s Israel alliance, Talia Khan, said “an Israeli student whose identity and personal info was sold online for a bounty has not left his dorm room in weeks out of fear due to death threats.” Other students at her school hear the claim that “Jewish Israelis want to enslave the world in a global apartheid system” and “that Israel harvests Palestinian organs.” 

Upon reporting the slander to the school’s office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Ms. Khan said “the DEI officer in his department replied by telling us that nothing he said was hate speech,” and, she said, “that the organ harvesting conspiracy theory was ‘confirmed.’” Ms. Khan cited a survey of Jewish students on campus, which found that 70 percent felt forced to hide their identities out of fear.

A student at the University of Pennsylvania, Eyal Yakoby, shared that he and other students have “sought refuge” in their rooms while classmates and professors “chanted proudly for the genocide of Jews while igniting smoke bombs and defacing school property,” he said. He pointed out that his university president failed to swiftly denounce the incident. 

Remarks like “The glorious October 7” and “You’re a dirty little Jew, you deserve to die” were uttered not by Hamas terrorists, Mr. Yakoby said, but by his classmates and professors.

Penn has faced complaints from the nonprofit civil rights organization, the Brandeis Center, for creating “a hostile environment for its Jewish students as well as a magnet for anti-Semites.” Mr. Yakoby vowed, “I refuse to go back to 1939 when Jews had to hide their religious symbols and hide who they are due to the intimidation and harassment of us.”

The university presidents were grilled by lawmakers over their handling of the issue. “Today, each of you will have a chance to answer to and atone for the many specific instances of vitriolic, hate-filled antisemitism on your respective campuses,” said Ms. Foxx, “that have denied students the safe learning environment they are due.”

Congressman Bob Good asked Ms. Magill if the equation of antisemitism with Islamophobia is “morally dishonest,” and she said she “abhors” all acts of hate. She was later asked by Congressman Jim Banks about the event that took place at Penn in September — the Palestine Writes Literature Festival — which drew backlash from donors for including speakers with a history of making antisemitic statements. In response, Ms. Magill asserted, multiple times, “antisemitism has no place at Penn.”

Congresswoman Elise Stefanik asked Ms. Gay whether “a Harvard student calling for the mass murder of African Americans is not protected free speech at Harvard, correct?” When Ms. Gay began to answer, Ms. Stefanik retorted, “it’s a yes or no question.” Asked about the use of the term “Intifada” in the context of the Israel-Hamas war, Ms. Gay responded, “that type of hateful speech is personally abhorrent to me.”

Ms. Stefanik pressed Ms. Gay on whether this speech violated Harvard’s code of student conduct, and she replied, “it is at odds with the values of Harvard.” Yet Ms. Gay repeatedly asserted that “we embrace a commitment to free expression…” and she did not provide a clear answer on whether students invoking such inflammatory speech will be punished, citing “students’ rights to privacy and our obligations under FERPA.”

“Harvard ranks the lowest when it comes to protecting Jewish students,” asserted Ms. Stefanik after questioning Ms. Gay. “This is why I have called for your resignation, and your testimony today, not being able to answer with moral clarity, speaks volumes.”


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