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Magill, Gay Are Gone, but Issue of Campus Antisemitism Lingers

The fallout from campus antisemitism that claimed the job of former University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill is far from over, as evidenced by the ouster of Harvard’s Dr. Claudine Gay.

Gay resigned as president of Harvard University on Tuesday (though she will keep her $900,000 annual paycheck as a tenured professor), less than a month after Magill was forced out at Penn. Both Gay and Magill, along with Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Sally Kornbluth, received heavy criticism over their performance during a congressional hearing on antisemitism on their campuses. None of the three would say that “calling for the genocide of Jews” violated their schools’ code of conduct. Gay infamously claimed it depended on the “context.”

Major donors to all three schools either reduced their contributions or cut them off entirely in response.

Magill stepped down without much drama, publicly accepting her fate. Not so with Gay, the first Black woman to serve as Harvard’s president. She claimed to be a victim of racism-fueled, trumped-up charges of plagiarism.

“It has been distressing to have doubt cast on my commitments to confronting hate and to upholding scholarly rigor—two bedrock values that are fundamental to who I am—and frightening to be subjected to personal attacks and threats fueled by racial animus,” she said in her resignation statement. “These last weeks have helped make clear the work we need to do to build that future—to combat bias and hate in all its forms, to create a learning environment in which we respect each other’s dignity and treat one another with compassion…”

In fact, Gay’s minimal academic output — only a handful of published papers during her career — was riddled with nearly 50 examples of either “inadequate citations,” as her Harvard defenders called it, or outright plagiarism. “In a 2001 article, Gay lifts nearly half a page of material verbatim from another scholar, David Canon, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin,” the Washington Free Beacon reported.

Now, some members of the Jewish community are concerned that the plagiarism issue will take the spotlight off what they see as the far more serious problem of antisemitism on America’s elite college campuses.

“The problems at Harvard have been years, if not decades, in the making,” Jeremy Burton, CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, told Jewish Insider. “Whatever your opinion about Gay’s decision to step aside and how that came about, we would be doing ourselves a disservice if we pretend that this in any way moves us closer to resolving the root problems with the campus environment at Harvard.”

Many members of Congress agree. Magill and Gay’s responses to the “genocide of Jews” questions inspired a bipartisan House resolution heaping scorn on antisemitism on university campuses. That resolution easily passed 303 to 126 last month. However, none of the “yes” votes came from local Democratic Reps. Madeleine Dean, Chrissy Houlahan, or Mary Gay Scanlon.

Scanlon and Dean voted “no,” while Houlahan voted “present.”

Bucks County Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick voted “yes.”

Penn has emerged with a reputation as one of the most antisemitism-friendly campuses in the U.S., and its problems are far from over.

Penn is being sued in federal court by two Jewish students who claim it has become an “incubation lab for virulent anti-Jewish hatred, harassment and discrimination.” That includes claiming pro-Palestinian protesters called one student “a dirty Jew” and said, “You know what you’ve done wrong.” The suit also accuses Penn faculty of “deliberate and targeted harassment” of Jewish students.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives killed a bill last month that would have funded Penn’s veterinary school.

House Minority Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) sent a letter to Penn leadership explaining that Magill’s resignation and a new antisemitism task force are great starts, but there’s more to be done.

“The task force’s initial report will be due in February, and the final report will be issued in May,” he wrote. “That time frame does nothing to bring about immediate change. It will not help students currently enrolled in the university experiencing this abhorrent form of hate, and it will be too late for students currently deciding whether to attend Penn.”

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Casey Outflanked by Local Democrat on Debate Over Penn President Magill and Antisemitism

(This article first appeared in Broad + Liberty.)

Although the 2024 elections are a full eleven months away, candidates — incumbent Democrats in particular — are having to navigate the current Israeli-Hamas war with voters in mind. And just as incumbent U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D) was trying to maneuver against his likely Republican opponent on the issue as it heated to new levels, he may have been outflanked by a member of his own party.

The entire debate intensified earlier this week after Penn President Elizabeth “Liz” Magill’s testimony Tuesday to a Congressional committee, testimony that has drawn widespread criticism.

At the hearing, Magill and other university presidents were pressed by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) as to whether a student calling for Jewish genocide would be a violation of each university’s code of conduct.

More than once, Magill answered, “If the speech becomes conduct, it can be harassment, yes.”

Stefanik was incredulous. “Conduct, meaning committing the act of genocide?” Stefanik asked.

At 5:15 Wednesday evening, Casey posted on X, “President Magill’s comments yesterday were offensive, but equally offensive was what she didn’t say. The right to free speech is fundamental, but calling for the genocide of Jews is antisemitic and harassment, full stop.”

By 5:30, however, Republican Senate candidate Dave McCormick called for Magill to step down.

Even before McCormick’s statement — and just one minute after Casey condemned Magill but stopped short of calling for her removal — State Senator Steve Santarsiero significantly raised the stakes. A Bucks County Democrat, Santarsiero also called for Magill’s resignation while adding, “I will not vote for any state funding for the university until she does so.”

Charlie Gerow, a longtime GOP consultant and pundit, said Santarsiero’s stance aligned more with McCormick, thereby painting Casey into a corner.

“At a time when strength is required and demanded, Casey has again been weak,” Gerow said.

“He hasn’t called out [U.S. Representative] Summer Lee, he’s taken a hesitant stand on Magill, and a member of his own party’s strong statement and strong position on the Penn president makes Casey’s position look even weaker,” Gerow summarized.

When contacted for comment, a spokesperson for Sen. Casey pointed to a FOX News article she said represented his position.

“Like Governor Shapiro, Senator Casey wants UPenn’s board to meet and determine whether President Magill’s comments align with the university’s values,” the story noted, attributing the quote to a Casey spokesperson.

Magill’s testimony was so problematic that Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) and the White House have both condemned her testimony. Shapiro called the testimony “failed leadership.”

The political shockwaves were so heavy that Magill posted online a walk back of her testimony, and a day later Penn’s board hastily called an emergency meeting.

Santarsiero’s district makes his stance all the more important — purple-ish Bucks County, which has widely come to be viewed as a crucial swing county. And if Magill does in fact get removed or resigns, Santarsiero’s impact on the debate diminishes Casey’s role as the commonwealth’s senior Senator.

At the Congressional hearing, members of both parties demonstrated support for the protection of Jews; yet some representatives did break down along typical party lines with calls for more funding to solve the problem.

Some candidates are offering more public support than others, all of which will inevitably come to be weighed in future elections.

Rep. Summer Lee, a Pittsburgh Democrat whose district includes the Tree of Life Synagogue which was attacked five years ago, has faced substantial criticism at home. Lee was one of ten representatives (nine of them Democrats) who voted against a bipartisan resolution “standing with Israel as it defends itself against the barbaric war launched by Hamas and other terrorists.”

A local rabbi expressed his frustration.

“I am a little disappointed that she has not been more proactive in finding the right language and forum in which to speak to and support her Jewish constituents on Israel,” Rabbi Seth Adelson told the New York Times.

The paper said Adleson’s son “has been called to active duty in the Israel Defense Forces, and he added that the division in Ms. Lee’s district — racial, religious, ethnic — over Israel and Palestine ‘is not helpful.’”

Even before Magill testified on Capitol Hill, her management of the war’s politics had come under heavy criticism from wealthy alumni who were stopping or putting on hold their donations to the university.

Those alumni were upset that Penn’s administration failed to condemn a “Palestine Writes Literature Festival” that many said crossed the lines into overt antisemitism.

Magill Says Calling For Jewish Genocide Is Allowed at UPenn ‘In Context,’ Then Issues Correction

Embattled University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill is under fire yet again for her problematic response to antisemitic speech on campus, telling a congressional hearing that calling for Jewish genocide is allowed depending on its “context.”

Then, after 24 hours of backlash, Magill released a video refuting her previous statement.

Magill made her controversial statement before the U.S. House Education and Workforce Committee Tuesday when she was questioned about the surge in antisemitic speech and actions on the UPenn campus. Committee members from both parties grilled Magill and her fellow academic leaders, Harvard President Claudine Gay, and MIT President Sally Kornbluth.

“Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Penn’s rules or code of conduct? Yes or no?” asked Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.)

Rather than give a yes-or-no answer, Magill said that “if the speech turns into conduct, it can be harassment,” later adding that if the calls for genocide were “directed and severe or pervasive,” they could violate Penn’s rules against harassment.

“So, the answer is yes?” Stefanik asked.

“It is a context-dependent decision, congresswoman,” Magill replied.

Stefanik wasn’t satisfied with that.

“Calling for the genocide of Jews — depending upon the context — is not bullying or harassment? This is the easiest question to answer: ‘yes,’ Ms. Magill.”

Magill declined to give that answer, and the other two university presidents echoed Magill’s views.

The answer sparked outrage from both sides of the political aisle.

“It should not be hard to condemn genocide, genocide against Jews, genocide against anyone else,” Gov. Josh Shapiro said Wednesday, calling Magill’s answer “unacceptable.”

“Leaders have a responsibility to speak and act with moral clarity, and Liz Magill failed to meet that simple test,” Shapiro added. He called on the university’s board to meet soon to decide if her values were their values.

GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley said Wednesday that Magill’s answer was “disgusting” and that the views of the university leaders are putting their institutions’ tax-exempt status at risk.

“Calling for the genocide of Jews is no different than calling for genocide of any other ethnic, racial, or religious group,” the former U.N. ambassador said. “As POTUS, this will end, or we’ll pull their tax-exempt status.”

On Wednesday, Magill caved.

“There was a moment during yesterday’s Congressional hearing on antisemitism when I was asked if a call for the genocide of Jewish people on our campus would violate our policies,” Magill said in a video statement.

“In that moment, I was focused on our university’s long-standing policies – aligned with the U.S. Constitution – which say that speech alone is not punishable.

“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. It’s evil, plain and simple. I want to be clear: a call for genocide of Jewish people is threatening, deeply so,” she said.

During her testimony before Congress, Magill said UPenn has formed a task force to deal with antisemitism and a plan centering on “safety and security, engagement, and education.”

However, the track record on campus tells a different story, members of the committee said. Several asked Magill about the Palestine Writes Festival, an event that featured several prominent antisemites (including Roger Waters of Pink Floyd) and was held on the eve of Yom Kippur — with the permission of Magill’s administration.

“As president, I am committed to a safe, secure, and supportive educational environment so that our academic mission can thrive,” said Magill. “It is crucial that ideas are exchanged, and diverse viewpoints are debated. As a student of constitutional democracy, I know we need both safety and free expression for universities and, ultimately, democracies to thrive. In these times, it can be difficult for these competing principles to balance.”

Magill has been under pressure from donors and alumni who have criticized her handling of antisemitic incidents on campus, which have included vandalism of the Hillel building and antisemitic slogans projected onto campus buildings. Several major donors announced they will no longer write checks to Penn. Penn is also under investigation by the federal government for antisemitic incidents.

Eyal Yakoby, a Jewish student at Penn, spoke at a press conference Tuesday about Magill’s silence in the face of antisemitic demonstrations calling for the destruction of Israel. His classmates and professors have told him that as a Jew, he deserved to die, he said.

“As a student, despite what my university says, I do not feel safe,” Yakoby said. “Let me be clear: I do not feel safe.”

Pennsylvania Rep. Susan Wild (D-Lehigh), who sits on the committee, said, “I so wish that this hearing was one where we were having a robust intellectual discussion” about the limits of free speech, and she praised “the brilliant minds we have in front of us.”

“As a Jewish mother of two students who are now fully launched and I had to send off to college not so many years ago, I am very, very sympathetic to the concerns of the students and the parents,” said Wild. “About their safety, emotionally, physically, and otherwise.”

In remarks that echoed several other Democratic representatives, Wild brought different kinds of prejudice into the discussion of antisemitism.

“But it’s not just about antisemitism. It’s about all forms of hate speech, whether it’s anti-LGBT, Islamophobia, whatever it is racist language. Students deserve a place of safety, emotionally and physically. But at the same time, I think of college as the place where we learn to think critically.”

Later on Tuesday, Wild refused to support a House resolution condemning antisemitism, voting “present” instead.

Rep. Glenn “G.T.” Thompson (R-Armstrong) noted, “Nowhere have these hateful ideas found a safer home than on college campuses,” and many university leaders have “not met this moment.”

Thompson also pointed out that many members of the Penn faculty publicly support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, boycotting Israeli universities, people, and companies. “It is impossible for a faculty member to support BDS and treat Israeli academics fairly,” he said.

Magill said they “strongly oppose BDS” and have many ties to Israel and Israel universities.

Asked to comment after the hearing, Yakoby said, “I wish Magill had addressed the concerns brought by the committee members of Congress. There are violations of school policy that have gone unaddressed. I wish she had owned up to the mishandling of the school and then provided the ways she is planning to right her wrongs.”

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