December 5th, 2023
By Joel B. Pollak
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) grilled Harvard University President Claudine Gay on Tuesday about the use of antisemitic rhetoric on campus during a hearing on antisemitism at American universities.
Stefanik, who is a Harvard graduate, and also serves as the House Republican Conference Chair, pointed out that chants like “intifada revolution” suggested a violent uprising against Israel and Jews everywhere, and asked whether they comported with the university’s code of conduct.
Gay replied: “We embrace free expression.”
Stefanik responded by noting that Harvard had recently been ranked last for free speech among American campuses by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE).
When Gay disputed that rating, Stefanik noted that Harvard had, in the recent past, rescinded the admissions offers of students who were later found to have used racist speech in the past.
Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) made a similar point later in the hearing when questioning University of Pennsylvania president Liz Magill, noting that several conservative speakers had been excluded or canceled, while speakers and professors with extreme anti-Israel and antisemitic views had been protected.
Just prior to the hearing, former Harvard president Lawrence Summers said that Harvard was “failing” in its “core obligation to create a safe environment conducive to learning and free expression for all students.”
While representatives from both sides of the aisle agreed that antisemitism on campus was a problem, Democrats tended to defend the academic institutions, and the policies of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) that some critics say have led to antisemitism by creating racial hierarchies that put Jews, as “white” people, in a despised “oppressor” category.
Gay and the other university presidents tended to dance around the roots of the problem, and many made an effort to mention Islamophobia as well as antisemitism.
Several Republicans argued that the lack of ideological diversity on campus had contributed to “illiberalism” and intolerance that led to antisemitism.
Rep. Burgess Owens (R-UT) quizzed the university presidents about racial segregation in graduations and dormitories.
Rep. Michelle Steel (R-CA) asked them about foreign donations from the Middle East and the effects of those donations on students’ views: Gay said that such donations did not influence how Harvard was run. Stefanik came back to that point; Gay dodged yes-or-no questions about foreign funding and Middle East Studies at Harvard.