calls from the top

McConnell likens Columbia protesters to ‘student Nazis of Weimar Germany’ in call to restore order

‘Antisemitism is not a nuanced academic theory,’ McConnell said on Tuesday

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill on April 23, 2024, in Washington, D.C.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) took aim on Tuesday at recent antisemitic incidents at Columbia University, calling on college administrators to “bring order to their Manhattan campus” following tensions on campus that escalated into violence more than a week after students set up an anti-Israel encampment on the Morningside Heights campus. 

Speaking on the Senate floor, McConnell urged Columbia’s leadership to follow the lead of Princeton University and the University of Florida, where school administrators have not allowed their respective encampments to remain active. McConnell also excoriated the student protesters, comparing their behavior on Columbia’s campus to the “brand of aggressive lawlessness” shown by “the student Nazis of Weimar Germany.”

“Education never has anything to do with it; it’s about dangerous, radical politics. But just as the roots of this hate are not a mystery, neither is the way forward for college administrators. It’s time for the leaders of America’s most elite universities to take serious action,” McConnell said. “It’s not enough for administrators to lament campus disorder. Strongly worded statements don’t mean anything if they’re not backed by action.”

McConnell noted that “elite universities aren’t in the news for a decline in academic rigor” or because “another generation of students has decided to test the limits of the First Amendment with grotesque hate.”

“No, they’re in the news because weakness and inaction from campus leaders has allowed universities to become cauldrons of criminal chaos,” McConnell said. 

McConnell also used his speech to target the criticism he and other Republicans have received for opposing Adeel Mangi’s nomination to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Mangi, a Pakistani American litigator, has faced universal GOP opposition and tepid Democratic support for his nomination. Both Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) say they’ll vote against Mangi’s confirmation due to his lack of bipartisan support and ties to controversial groups, though he has the backing of a wide swath of the Jewish community, including the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee and National Council of Jewish Women.. 

Mangi has repeatedly condemned terrorism and the Oct. 7 attacks. He has also distanced himself from a board he served on at Rutgers University that held an event commemorating the 9/11 attacks. The White House has defended Mangi, saying in March that Republicans had launched a “cruel, Islamophobic, smear campaign” against him.

“The hateful ideas being expressed are not new to America’s universities. The world’s oldest form of hate has been alive and well in higher education for some time now. From the vile ‘boycott, divest, and sanction’ movement a decade ago to the establishment of outfits like the Rutgers Center for Race, Rights, and Religion, the forces of bigotry have been on the move,” McConnell explained. 

“These forces have powerful friends: President Biden’s nominee for the Third Circuit, Adeel Mangi, has long been a patron of the antisemitic Rutgers center. In fact, as new evidence indicates, he’s played a much more active and enthusiastic role than he described to our colleagues on the Judiciary Committee,” he continued. “Apparently, every progressive organization in the country is furious that my colleagues and I have dared to call attention to these disqualifying facts.”

“So let’s get it straight: Radicalism has no place in higher education or on the federal bench.” 

McConnell called on President Joe Biden and the White House to pull Mangi’s nomination and condemn the antisemitism taking place on college campuses, accusing the president of “prioritizing the feelings of his political supporters over moral clarity.”

“Antisemitism is not a nuanced academic theory. It is not, as the White House press secretary described campus radicals’ motivations yesterday, a mere ‘difficult viewpoint,’” McConnell said. “It is not justified by political disagreements with Israel and its government. It is not entitled to take over campuses and make life miserable for Jewish students.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) similarly condemned the unrest on Columbia’s campus on Tuesday, saying on the Senate floor, “Smashing windows with hammers and taking over university buildings is not free speech. It is lawlessness. And those who did it should promptly face the consequences that are not merely a slap on the wrist.”

“Free speech, discussion, and even strong disagreement are fundamental American values, and campuses should be places where those values are cherished,” Schumer said. “Campuses cannot be places of learning and argument and discussion when protests veer into criminality, and those who commit such acts are doing nothing to convince others that their cause is just.”

Columbia has faced two weeks of anti-Israel protests from students on campus that escalated into numerous instances of physical assault and harassment against Jewish and pro-Israel students. More than 100 anti-Israel activists were initially arrested last week, though most have since returned to the campus.

Columbia University President Minouche Shafik said on Monday that the administration was unable to reach an agreement with protesters and would move ahead with having them removed from the encampment. University spokesman Ben Chang said later Monday that students who refused to leave the encampment would face disciplinary action. 

The campus devolved into chaos on Monday evening as scores of protesters used hammers and other tools to break open doors to the university’s Hamilton Hall and took over the building. Students hung banners reading “Intifada” and “Liberation Education” on windows and ledges. 

University police have since locked down all but one entry point into the campus while they attempted to gain control of the situation, while remaining agitators said Columbia’s refusal to divest from Israel had moved them to double down on their efforts.

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