The presidents of three elite US universities were invited to a hearing in the US Congress on the subject of anti-Semitism. But her answers are a scandal for many – scientists and politicians are calling for her resignation.
There have been numerous anti-Semitic incidents at US universities since October 7th. The US Congress therefore invited the presidents of the three renowned elite universities Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) to a hearing in the Education Committee on Tuesday. It was supposed to be about anti-Semitic and Islamophobic incidents at their institutions – which all three admitted.
Call for genocide a question of context?
But her statements in response to the question from Republican Elise Stefanik caused a stir among the US public. “Does the call for genocide against Jews violate your university’s code of conduct?” she wanted to know from the women.
“That could be the case, but it depends on the context,” said Harvard President Claudine Gay. Her colleagues from Pennsylvania, Liz Magill, and Boston, Sally Kornbluth, also responded with similar formulations. When asked repeatedly, all three made similar statements and, in the eyes of many observers, avoided a simple, clear answer.
University presidents rely on freedom of expression
Gay emphasized, for example, that it depends on whether it is directed against an individual. Gay also said elsewhere in the hearing: “These types of hateful, inconsiderate and offensive statements are personally abhorrent to me.” But one is obliged to freedom of expression. The demand for the extermination of all Jews as a form of freedom of expression – that apparently went too far for many, even in the very tolerant USA.
Magill’s response also seemed bizarre to many, saying that calling for genocide against Jews could then constitute harassment (harrassment) and thus violate university rules “when words become actions”. With obvious horror, Stefanik asked back: “So acting means actually carrying out genocide?”
When the three women failed to give a simple yes or no answer despite the questions, the Republican – who is herself a Harvard graduate – burst out: “You should resign!” The answer to whether calling for genocide against Jews constitutes a violation of university rules must be yes, says Stefanik. “The responses from everyone involved are unacceptable.”
Horrified reactions from scientists and politicians
Tuesday’s hearing caused great excitement in the United States and provoked numerous reactions from politicians, scientists and other observers. For example, Vice President Kamala Harris’ husband, Doug Emhoff, spoke out: “The refusal to call genocide threats against Jews anti-Semitic is unacceptable, a lack of moral clarity.”
Harvard Law School law professor emeritus Laurence Tribe said he is by no means a supporter of Republican Stefanik – who has a history of spreading conspiracy ideologies such as the Great Exchange. But: “Claudine Gay’s hesitant, formulaic and bizarrely evasive answers were deeply disturbing for me and many of my colleagues, students and friends.”
White House with statement
Even the White House felt compelled to comment. “It is unbelievable that this needs to be said: calls for genocide are outrageous and contradictory to everything we represent as a country,” said government spokesman Andrew Bates.
Billionaire and major Harvard donor Bill Ackmann called for the resignation of university president Gay. Other graduates and donors have announced that they will significantly reduce their donations to the university, reports Business Insider.
The hearing has already had tangible financial consequences for UPenn. Ross Stevens, founder and CEO of Stone Ridge Asset Management, is withdrawing his approximately $100 million donation to the University of Pennsylvania. The BBC quotes an email from the UPenn graduate: “I have clear reasons to withdraw Penn’s $100 million in Stone Ridge shares due to President Magill’s behavior.” He also called for her resignation.
Magill under pressure
Magill is particularly criticized. There were angry protests from students at her university who also called for the lawyer to resign. The state’s governor, Josh Shapiro, a left-wing Democrat, was also appalled by the lack of clear distancing. “It shouldn’t be that difficult and there shouldn’t be any nuances,” said the governor. “A single word would have been enough.”
Magill then tried to justify himself in a video message. In the situation, she was too focused on her university’s long-held stance that free speech should not be punishable. That’s what it says in the constitution. However, she should have limited her response to clearly condemning calls for violence.
However, it may be too late for that: the board of the Wharton Business School at UPenn has officially asked her to resign from her position.
With information from Sebastian Hesse, ARD Studio Washington.
Sebastian Hesse, ARD Washington, tagesschau, December 8th, 2023 12:23 p.m