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University presidents try to clarify stance on antisemitic rhetoric

The presidents of Harvard, Penn and MIT are facing calls to resign after facing questions from Congress.
Harvard President Claudine Gay, left, and University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill.
Posted at 2:31 PM, Dec 07, 2023

The president of the University of Pennsylvania released a video that attempts to clarify her answer to a question about Jewish genocide while appearing before Congress. 

"At Penn, does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Penn's rules or code of conduct? Yes or no," Rep. Elise Stefanik asked University of Pennsylvania President M. Elizabeth Magill.

"If the speech turns into conduct, it can be harassment, yes," Magill replied. 

The nuanced answer appeared to anger Stefanik, who asked whether someone had to actually commit genocide to be in violations of the rules at Penn. 

The presidents of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were asked similar questions, but refused to give a yes or no answer. 

In a video posted Wednesday night, Magill said she was focused on the university's long-standing policies that align with the Constitution when answering the question. 

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"I was not focused on, but I should have been, the irrefutable fact that a call for genocide of Jewish people is a call for some of the most terrible violence human beings can perpetrate," she added.  "It's evil—plain and simple."

Magill went on to say that the school's policies need to be clarified and evaluated, adding that she will convene a process to do so.

Harvard President Claudine Gay, who said calling for the genocide of Jews can be considered harassment "depending on the context," issued a statement on Wednesday. She attempted to clarify that she was trying to balance the right to free speech and Harvard's policy in her answer before Congress. 

"There are some who have confused a right to free expression with the idea that Harvard will condone calls for violence against Jewish students. Let me be clear: Calls for violence or genocide against the Jewish community, or any religious or ethnic group are vile, they have no place at Harvard, and those who threaten our Jewish students will be held to account," Gay said. 

MIT's president, who also said context matters when addressing the issue, has not publicly offered any follow-up statement.

All thee presidents are facings calls to resign — from both Republicans and Democrats. 

House panel questions college presidents over antisemitic incidents
A woman holds a sign saying,

House panel questions college presidents over antisemitic incidents

More than 3 out of 4 Jewish American college students said they have seen or witnessed antisemitism this school year.