Pennsylvania Democrat Sen. John Fetterman is breaking with the progressives in his party yet again, teaming up with a Republican colleague on legislation to protect Jewish students harassed on college campuses over their faith.
On Thursday, Fetterman and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) announced the Protecting Students on Campus Act of 2024. It requires colleges and universities to “prominently display” a link to the Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office on their websites to facilitate students submitting discrimination complaints online.
The bill also requires that schools run yearly public awareness campaigns on antisemitism and display campaign materials inside campus student centers and online.
“No student should face hostility or violence for who they are, what they look like, where they’re from, or what they believe,” said Fetterman, who called diversity a strength of the U.S. “Amid a despicable rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia in our country, I am proud to introduce this bill…to empower students facing discrimination to take action and hold universities accountable in protecting students.”
Campus antisemitism is particularly sensitive in the Philadelphia area, where the University of Pennsylvania is viewed as one of the most antisemitism-friendly campuses in the country. Just days before the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attack in Israel, Penn hosted a pro-Palestinian festival populated with open antisemites like rocker Roger Waters of Pink Floyd. After the horrific attack, chants of “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” were heard across the campus. The chant is a call for the destruction of the Jewish state of Israel.
In December, two University of Pennsylvania students sued the school, saying they’ve been subjected to a “pervasively hostile educational environment.” The federal suit claimed Penn hires “rabidly antisemitic” professors and refuses to protect Jewish and Israeli students. Racial slurs and antisemitic graffiti are also scrawled in classrooms and dorm rooms.
A similar federal lawsuit was filed against Harvard this week, alleging it is “a bastion of rampant anti-Jewish hatred and harassment.” Court papers accused Harvard of allowing students and professors to call for Israel’s destruction while cracking down on other racial abuse. One rabbi said during a Hanukkah ceremony that he’s heard people say the Holocaust didn’t happen. Pro-Palestinian groups also held a demonstration inside a library reading room.
Jeremy Burton, CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, told Jewish Insider that Harvard’s campus environment has “root problems” with antisemitism. It includes a letter from 31 Harvard student organizations that said Israel was “entirely responsible” for the deaths of 900 Israelis by Hamas.” The Harvard Crimson’s editorial board wrote a full-throated support of the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) Movement in 2022 while apologizing for not supporting it in the past. The dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education blamed both the Israeli government and Hamas for the war.
The presidents of Harvard and Penn have recently resigned.
“No student should be harassed or attacked at school just because of who they are,” Cassidy said of the new bill. “This legislation holds colleges and universities accountable and ensures discrimination against students is never ignored.”
The federal government would audit colleges and universities that report a high number of civil rights complaints relative to the student population. The bill mandates that schools report to the federal government how many civil rights complaints they receive and what they did to address them.
Tyler Coward with The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression believes there’s merit to Cassidy and Fetterman’s bill. He told DVJournal that “we don’t have a problem” with reporting requirements or asking institutions to make sure that their website has harassment resources.
Coward argued, “Adding religion as a protected class would be a really great way to close this loop that some Jewish students and students of other faiths just don’t have access to Title Six remedies because of their religious practices.”
Fetterman’s outspoken support of Israel, even as many progressives are calling for an end to U.S. military aid to the Jewish state, has surprised members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. And he shows no sign of backing down. On Wednesday, he gave what’s been described as a “fiery speech” defending Israel after South Africa brought accusations of genocide against it before the International Court of Justice.
Noting South Africa’s terrible history of racism, violence, and apartheid, Fetterman had a suggestion, “Maybe you ought to sit this one out.”