Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) asks a question during a House committee hearing about antisemitism on campus with the presidents of Harvard, Penn and MIT president on Dec. 5, 2023. Credit: Courtesy of the Office of Rep. Stefanik.
It was a very bad week for the presidents of Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania. But as much as the discomfort and job security of the trio of academic bureaucrats put on the spot by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) during a congressional hearing on antisemitism on college campuses is a focus of interest, no one should think what they now say or what happens to them is of critical importance.
On the contrary, the viral video of their appalling testimony is merely a symptom of the problem plaguing America’s educational establishment and the rest of society. It is the toxic ideologies that have created these three pathetic examples of university leaders without a moral compass that we should be worried about, not their individual fates. As long as the schools they lead, and as long as most other such institutions—whether considered among the country’s “elite” schools or not—remain captured by the woke mindset that has made critical race theory and intersectionality the prevailing orthodoxy, antisemitism there will be a given.
To The New York Times and others on the left, the predicaments of Harvard’s Claudine Gay, MIT’s Sally Kornbluth and Penn’s Liz Magill were a “prosecutorial trap”—one into which they fell headlong.
The question of genocide
Throughout the hearing, while most of the Democrats lobbed softballs at the representatives of these schools, Stefanik and other Republicans had been pressing them to account for the rampant targeting of Jewish students on their campuses since the Hamas atrocities of Oct. 7. Stefanik had tried to get them to admit that pro-Hamas chants for “intifada”—an invocation of the Palestinian terror campaign that cost the lives of more than 1,200 Jews—was evidence of calls for violence that breach these institution’s rules against bullying and harassment. So, when she asked them whether calls for Jewish genocide constituted a violation of college policies, she expected them to say “yes” and then to follow up with questions about their failure to enforce those regulations.
Instead, the trio answered in a lawyerly fashion, saying that it depended on the “context” of the slurs or if such language turned into actual conduct. When given opportunities to clarify and give a clear “yes” or “no” answer, they prevaricated—sometimes with arrogant contempt for the questions in the case of Gay or nervous smiles by Magill. The point of the questions was to highlight the failures of these schools to protect Jewish students while they coddled and encouraged the mobs on their campuses that have been harassing their peers while chanting for the destruction of the one Jewish state on the planet. Even Stefanik was surprised that presidents of some of the most prestigious universities in the country were at that moment more worried about being accused of taking sides against antisemitic students, whose vile behavior is being cheered on by so many among the administrators and faculty.
Within 24 hours, both Gay and Magill backtracked, with the latter posting a groveling apology video on social media that did nothing to salvage her reputation. Indeed, a day before Penn’s Board of Trustees was scheduled to meet virtually to discuss what had become a crisis for the university’s reputation, Magill submitted her resignation.
Yet as foolish as their performance was, Stefanik shouldn’t have been surprised. Indeed, no one should have been, even if their testimony became an embarrassing viral moment that prompted condemnation not just from Jewish organizations and liberal academics, but from the White House and many Democratic politicians that Gay, Magill and Kornbluth might have assumed would side with them.
Though the controversy has generated criticisms from donors and in the case of Magill, led to her resignation, what Stefanik exposed was not just the trio’s lack of preparedness and their inability to grasp how their institutional blindness to antisemitism appears to those outside of the leftist bubble in which they live. Instead, it was a moment that revealed the moral corruption that now exists at the heart of academic discourse. It’s the product of these institution’s adoption of woke ideology that falsely labels those smearing Israel—calling it an “apartheid state” that needs to be “decolonized”—as laudable idealists, and considers those who defend it as racists and “white supremacists.”
A clarifying moment
The unspeakable crimes committed on Oct. 7 in southern Israel by the Hamas terrorist organization that has run the Gaza Strip since 2007 have proved to be a clarifying moment. On that day, Islamist operatives carried out the largest mass slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust, along with gang rapes, torture and the kidnapping of more than 200 men, women and children. In response, Israel has done the only thing any sovereign nation could do. It decided to put an end to Hamas rule to prevent terrorists from carrying out their pledge to repeat these outrages as part of their campaign to destroy Israel “from the river to the sea.”
Yet almost from the first moment that Hamas began this war, the response from the left-wing elites that dominate academia, as well as other so-called “progressives,” has been to adopt the Palestinian narrative in which they are the victims and Israel the oppressor. In doing so, they have essentially ignored or erased any discussion of the Israeli terror victims. More than that, the anti-Israel protests almost immediately became expressions not so much emanating out of concern for Palestinian civilians being hurt or killed because the terrorists use them as human shields, but rather, of support for Hamas’s goal of Israel’s destruction and the slaughter of Jews.
This was made clear by the chants heard in street protests in many American cities and on college campuses, supporting the “from the river to the sea” mantra and “free Palestine” that fantasizes about the elimination of the Jewish state. It’s also demonstrated by the calls for “intifada,” which means support for more Oct. 7 horrors visited upon Jews.
That these sorts of things are being said by large numbers of people is as shocking and upsetting as the videos of antisemites tearing down posters that publicize the plight of those kidnapped by Hamas. While it’s true that even hateful speech is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, schools are not required to tolerate such behavior on their private campuses.
The spread of woke ideology
In the current environment in which woke ideology has become the prevailing orthodoxy in academia, institutions of higher education are notorious for their hostility to free speech. Those who dissent against leftist and “anti-racist” orthodoxy or who point out that the woke catechism of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is hostile to a diversity of opinion, opposed to equality and inclusive only of certain approved minorities (a term interpreted as excluding Jews) are routinely silenced, shunned and excluded from college life. Indeed, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) ranked Harvard last among 254 universities and colleges when it comes to the protection of free speech.
No one doubts that any individual student or group of students that advocated for the lynching—let alone genocide of African-Americans or Hispanics—would be immediately expelled and any teachers who joined them would be similarly booted off campus. Yet those who advocate for violence against Jews are rarely, if ever, punished for such behavior.
The reason is that the now-dominant ideologies of critical race theory and intersectionality, which falsely analogizes the war on Israel to the struggle for civil rights in the United States, grants a permission slip for antisemitism. Their advocates, who now largely run most universities through DEI offices whose woke commissars have free reign on campuses, have adopted these big lies and treat those who disagree with disdain or worse. They have spread throughout the academic departments that administer the humanities and rule both admissions and issues of discipline.
The people who run these institutions act as if the main problem with the reactions to Oct. 7 is the opprobrium that decent people are heaping on those who are either openly supporting Hamas or are merely calling for a ceasefire that would allow the terrorists to get away with mass murder.
This point of view was best summed up by New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg, an opponent of Israel’s existence, whose piece about the issue, published on the day of the university presidents’ testimony, sounded the alarm about the alleged threat to free speech posed by the backlash against campus Jew-hatred. Goldberg is upset about the way that support for Hamas is proving that anti-Zionism is synonymous with antisemitism. In a subsequent column, she lamented the way the university presidents “stepped into a trap” that would suppress “pro-Palestinian” speech.
That Goldberg’s views are treated as mainstream by the Times, rather than the rantings of extremist hatemongers that should be confined to the fever swamps of the far-left and the far-right, demonstrates how the same woke mindset now controls the corporate mainstream media. But the reaction to Stefanik’s cross-examining of those university presidents also shows most Americans don’t share Goldberg’s hateful opinions.
What she, her editors and left-wing academics around the nation want to do is to redefine antisemitism to make it kosher to call for Israel’s destruction and the genocide of its people.
But you don’t have to hold a degree from Harvard, Penn or MIT to know that if individuals wish to deprive the Jewish people of rights no one would think of denying to any other people or group—such as the right to freedom and sovereignty in their ancient homeland, as well as the right of self-defense—you are practicing discrimination.
Those who reacted to the viral video by calling for the three presidents to resign aren’t wrong. And alumni and other donors who are now threatening to stop giving to the three schools in order to force the resignations of all three are well-meaning. Still, the problem is not the figureheads running these schools but the governing ideologies and woke bureaucracies that they represent.
What must change is not the persons at the head of these schools but the way they are run. It is DEI departments, coupled with the teaching of critical race theory and toxic intersectional myths that promote not just antisemitism but hatred of America and permanent racial division, that must go, not just Gay, Magill or Kornbluth. And if that doesn’t happen (and there is little evidence that the leftist establishment is ready to give up their control of academia or other segments of society that they have captured), then the response must be to strip the institutions of their federal funds. American families must also stop sending their children to these schools only to be indoctrinated by them. If regular citizens want to do something about antisemitism on campus, they can’t stop at firing a few token administrators who are the products of a corrupt system. They must work towards the overthrow of an establishment that is fueling hatred against Jews.