Sen. Bill Cassidy renews call for Bernie Sanders to hold antisemitism hearing

Sanders has been a roadblock to senators looking to schedule a hearing focused on anti-Jewish hate on campus

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Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee ranking member Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) (L) and Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) listens to witnesses during a hearing about working hours in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on March 14, 2024, in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), the top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, sent a letter to Senate HELP Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on Thursday urging him to convene a hearing on the uptick in antisemitism on college campuses. 

Cassidy’s letter, obtained exclusively by Jewish Insider, marks the second time in six months that the Louisiana senator has written to Sanders requesting that he allow for a full committee hearing “on ensuring safe learning environments for Jewish students, as required by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” Cassidy released a statement last week re-upping his call for a hearing, though he told JI that effort got no response.

“It is our duty to ensure federal officials are doing everything in their power to uphold the law and ensure students are not excluded from participation, denied the benefits of, or subject to discrimination at school based on race, color, or national origin,” Cassidy wrote to Sanders. “In the six months since my last letter requesting a hearing, the situation has only gotten worse.”

Cassidy asked that Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Catherine Lhamon, the Department of Education’s assistant secretary for civil rights, be invited to testify, saying that the committee “must engage in a direct discussion” with both “about the actions they are taking to address antisemitism on college campuses.”

Cassidy also noted that there has been “bipartisan interest in this issue,” pointing to the “strong attendance” from HELP members on both sides of the aisle to the roundtable he hosted on the matter last November. 

“This issue certainly demands the full Committee’s direct attention and engagement from the Senate-confirmed Department of Education officials we oversee,” Cassidy said. 

The Republican senator, who is a frequent participant in bipartisan policy efforts, referenced Columbia University’s campus being overrun last month by an anti-Israel encampment where dozens of antisemitic incidents were reported. He also noted the subsequent encampments popping up on university campuses across the country and the uptick in antisemitic activity. 

“Since I requested a hearing last week, the antisemitism on college campuses is worsening. I am sending a second letter to again ask the HELP Chairman to call a hearing to address antisemitic attacks and harassment of Jewish students,” Cassidy told JI in a statement. “It is the Committee’s responsibility to hold schools and the Department of Education accountable for the safe learning environment of all students. Now is the time for vigorous Committee action.”

While Republicans have generally been more vocal about their concerns on the issue of antisemitism on college campuses, there have been bipartisan calls for action in the upper chamber. 

Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and James Lankford (R-OK) have also asked Sanders to hold a hearing on antisemitism on college campuses in his capacity as HELP chairman. Similar to Cassidy, they have also not heard back from the Vermont senator. 

Asked by JI in the Capitol on Wednesday about organizing a hearing about antisemitism on college campuses, Sanders replied that, “Well, the issue of bigotry on campus is something that we are concerned about” before abruptly entering a senators-only elevator. 

Cassidy told JI in November that Sanders had declined to call a hearing on campus antisemitism, so he instead organized a bipartisan roundtable on the issue, which the HELP chairman did not attend. 

For his part, Sanders delivered a Senate floor speech on Wednesday largely expressing support for anti-Israel protests on college campuses and rejecting many of the accusations of antisemitism leveled at anti-Israel demonstrators.

“Protesting injustice and expressing our opinions is part of our American tradition. And when you talk about America being a free country, whether you like it or not the right to protest is what American freedom is all about. That’s the U.S. Constitution,” Sanders said.

“I share those concerns about violence on campuses, or, for that matter, any place else, and I condemn those who threw a brick through a window at Columbia University. That kind of violence should not be taking place on college campuses,” he continued. “I am also concerned and condemn the group of individuals at UCLA in California who violently attacked the peaceful encampment of anti-war demonstrators on the campus of UCLA.”

“Let me be clear: I condemn all forms of violence on campus whether they are committed by people who support Israel’s war efforts or those who oppose those policies,” Sanders said before pivoting to his issues with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the war in Gaza.

Sanders’ office did not respond to JI’s subsequent requests for comment on the matter, nor did they respond to a request for comment on Cassidy’s letter. A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) also declined to comment on whether he believes a hearing on antisemitism is needed. 

Marc Rod contributed to this report.

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