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House lawmakers demand Harvard, MIT, Penn fire their presidents over antisemitism testimony

Bipartisan letter argued that not removing the presidents from their positions would constitute an ‘endorsement’ and ‘act of complicity’ in the presidents’ ‘antisemitic posture’

Claudine Gay, president of Harvard University and Liz Magill, president of University of Pennsylvania, testify before the House Education and Workforce Committee at the Rayburn House Office Building on December 05, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Claudine Gay, president of Harvard University and Liz Magill, president of University of Pennsylvania, testify before the House Education and Workforce Committee at the Rayburn House Office Building on December 05, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

Seventy-four House lawmakers  wrote to the boards of Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania on Friday demanding that they immediately fire their presidents in response to widely criticized congressional testimony they delivered on antisemitism on their campuses earlier this week.

The presidents of the three schools have come under increasing scrutiny this week amid growing speculation that their jobs could be on the line following their refusal to say earlier this week that calls for Jewish genocide would violate their schools’ codes of conduct.

“Testimony provided by presidents of your institutions showed a complete absence of moral clarity and illuminated the problematic double standards and dehumanization of the Jewish communities that your university presidents enabled,” the letter reads. “Given this moment of crisis, we demand that your boards immediately remove each of these presidents from their positions and that you provide an actionable plan” to ensure the safety of the Jewish community on campus.

“Anything less,” than the steps they requested, the lawmakers continued, “will be seen as your endorsement… and an act of complicity in their antisemitic posture.”

The letter was led by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who questioned the presidents on the genocide issue, and Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-FL). Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) is the only other Democrat who signed the letter; the rest are Republicans.

The lawmakers said that the testimony makes it “hard to imagine” any Jewish or Israeli person feeling safe on their campuses when the presidents “could not say that calls for the genocide of Jews would have clear consequences on your campus.”

It adds that subsequent social media statements seeking to clarify or walk back those comments “offered little clarification on your campus’ true commitment to protecting vulnerable students in this moment of crisis,” describing them instead as “desperate attempts to try and save their jobs” and “too little too late.”

Shortly before the Stefanik-Moskowitz letter was released, a group of thirteen House Democrats wrote to the boards of the three schools urging them to re-examine their codes of conduct to make clear that calls for the genocide of Jews are not acceptable.

This second letter, led by Reps. Kathy Manning (D-NC), Jake Auchincloss (D-MA) and Susan Wild (D-PA), includes similar language to the bipartisan letter regarding the presidents’ testimony and how it would make Jewish campus members feel unsafe, but stops short of directly calling for the presidents to be fired.

The lawmakers wrote that they felt “compelled to ask” if the presidents’ responses “align with the values and policies of your respective institutions.”

“The presidents’ unwillingness to answer questions clearly or fully acknowledge appalling and unacceptable behavior — behavior that would not have been tolerated against other groups — illuminated the problematic double standards and dehumanization of the Jewish communities at your universities,” the letter continues. “The lack of moral clarity these presidents displayed is simply unacceptable.”

The lawmakers requested that the schools update their policies to “ensure that they protect students from hate” and describe their plans for protecting Jewish and Israeli community members.

“There is no context in which calls for the genocide of Jews is acceptable rhetoric,” the letter reads. “While Harvard and Penn subsequently issued clarifying statements which were appreciated, their failure to unequivocally condemn calls for the systematic murder of Jews during the public hearing is deeply alarming and stands in stark contrast to the principles we expect leaders of top academic institutions to uphold.”

The letter notes that federal civil rights law prohibits discrimination against Jews on campus, and that criminal law bans hate crimes, violence and incitement to violence.

“Students and faculty who threaten, harass, or incite violence towards Jews must be held accountable for their actions,” the lawmakers wrote. “If calls for genocide of the Jewish people are not in violation of your universities’ policies, then it is time for you to reexamine your policies and codes of conduct.”

Signatories to the Democratic letter include Manning, Wild, Auchincloss, Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Lois Frankel (D-FL), Haley Stevens (D-MI), Greg Landsman (D-OH), Grace Meng (D-NY), Brad Schneider (D-IL), Dan Goldman (D-NY), Donald Norcross (D-NJ), Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Elissa Slotkin (D-MI).

All of the signatories to the Democratic letter are either Jewish or deeply involved with Jewish community issues on the Hill. 

Earlier this week, a third letter by six House Republicans from Pennsylvania — Reps. Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA), alongside Congressmen John Joyce, M.D. (R-PA), Mike Kelly (R-PA), Lloyd Smucker (R-PA), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), and Dan Meuser (R-PA) — called for University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill specifically to be fired.

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