money matters

Lawmakers move to cut federal funding to colleges over antisemitic activity, push for federal probes of SJP and AMP

The House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing in response to growing antisemitic activity on campus, including threats and harassment of Jewish students

Aaron Schwartz/Xinhua via Getty Images

This photo taken on Oct. 24, 2023 shows the door to the hearing room of U.S. House Committee on Ways & Means on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., the United States.

In response to growing antisemitic activity, including threats, harassment and intimidation of Jewish students on college campuses, House lawmakers on Wednesday moved to cut federal funding to schools that don’t respond forcefully to such activity, as well as floated investigations of groups involved with anti-Israel campus demonstrations.

“It’s far past time to do something about it… why would we continue to fund these universities with taxpayer dollars?” Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) said at a hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee, a proposal echoed by several colleagues. “It is beyond anything I can grasp anymore. Because I wasn’t raised this way. What in the heck is wrong with these people?”

The House approved an amendment to the Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriation bill on Wednesday that would implement a similar policy, banning funding any institution that “authorizes, facilitates, provides funding for, or otherwise supports” events promoting antisemitism on campus.

The amendment by Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY) was approved by a 373-54 vote, with 53 mostly progressive Democrats and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) in opposition.

The idea was endorsed by several of the witnesses who testified before the Ways and Means committee, including Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt and activist and former Israeli antisemitism envoy Noa Tishby.

At the urging of witnesses, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed interest in pushing the FBI and Internal Revenue Service to investigate the funding sources of groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, which has organized many of the campus protests, and American Muslims for Palestine, which has ties to SJP. They said they also wanted to probe ties between the groups and Hamas.

Committee members and witnesses pushed for stronger measures by colleges and universities against SJP and similar groups on college campuses, including banning groups that promote hate speech and violence from campuses and expelling students who harass or assault their peers.

“Ladies and gentlemen, SJP is a hate group. It is grooming American college students — grooming your children — to hate Israel, to hate America and to hate Jews,” Tishby said. “Universities have let Jewish students down and they’re letting America down.”

Lawmakers further questioned whether foreign funding to U.S. universities, particularly from Qatar, was motivating their reticence to offer clear and unequivocal statements against Hamas and to act against antisemitism. Greenblatt urged the lawmakers to cut off the flow of such funds, which he described as “dark charity,” to universities.

Jonathan Schanzer, the senior vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, laid out what he described as concerning links between AMP, SJP and individuals who had previously been involved with since-shuttered nonprofits that provided financial or material support to Hamas, as well as with Hamas itself.

The “personnel, mission, goals, donors and infrastructure” of AMP and SJP, Schanzer argued, bear “striking resemblance” to the earlier Hamas-supporting charities. He questioned whether they are again “providing support for Hamas under a different name.”

Tishby and Schanzer both noted that lawmakers have met with AMP representatives; Schanzer called out specific members, including Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), who sits on Ways and Means.

“You impugn[ed] the integrity and loyalty of my constituents. What he implies is total rubbish,” Pascrell responded. “My constituents have the right to petition their government just like you.”

Broadly, Schanzer alleged that U.S. authorities had taken their “eye off the ball” regarding Hamas and domestic financing of foreign terrorist groups — despite open admissions by some U.S.-based groups that they had sent funds to Hamas-linked entities.

“No one knows, no one’s watching,” he said.

Greenblatt said large charitable organizations — donor advised funds — should be examined to determine whether they are funneling funds to terrorist-supporting organizations.

Adam Lehman, the president and CEO of Hillel International, who also testified, warned that “if we don’t act, if we don’t collectively find a way… to heal these communities, to eradicate the hate that we allowed to fester, we will see” an incident similar to the deadly shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue on a college campus.

The hearing, which also featured testimony from Cornell student Talia Dror, was marked by a significant degree of public anger and frustration from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including some who have been critical of Israeli policy in the past, about the situation that has unfolded on campuses.

“There is no excuse for tolerating violence. Freedom of speech is not a get-out-of-jail-free card to abuse others,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) said.

At one point in the hearing, Greenblatt went after U.S. and international media for what he said was a failure to properly cover the war and accurately describe Hamas as a terrorist group.

“It’s fairly astonishing. It’s almost like Al Jazeera has captured our networks,” Greenblatt said. “It is beyond my understanding and comprehension how these organizations can be confused about the moral standing of these murderers.

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