House Republicans to ramp up efforts to combat campus antisemitism 

In the Senate, Bernie Sanders has been resistant to holding a hearing spotlighting antisemitism at universities

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House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) speaks during a press conference at Columbia University on April 24, 2024 in New York City.

Congressional Republicans are vowing action to address antisemitism on college campuses nationwide, with House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) launching “a House-wide effort” this week to crack down on universities unable to control anti-Israel protests that on some occasions have grown violent. 

Johnson said at a press conference on Tuesday that House Republicans would expand the ongoing efforts to tackle antisemitism beyond the House Education and Workforce Committee, which has investigations into six universities underway. 

The chairs of the House Energy and Commerce; Oversight; Judiciary; Ways and Means; and Science, Space, and Technology Committees will separately investigate “the billions of federal taxpayer dollars that go to these universities,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) said at the press conference. 

“Antisemitism is a virus and because the administration and woke university presidents aren’t stepping in, we’re seeing it spread,” Johnson said. “We must act, and House Republicans will speak to this fateful moment with moral clarity. We really wish those in the White House would do the same. We will not allow antisemitism to thrive on campus and we will hold these universities accountable for their failure to protect Jewish students on campus.”

“That’s why today we’re here to announce a House-wide effort to crack down on antisemitism on college campuses,” he continued. “Nearly every committee here has a role to play in these efforts to stop the madness that has ensued. The federal government plays a critical role in higher education, and we will use all the tools available to us to address this scourge.”

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), who chairs the Education and Workforce Committee, revealed that in addition to her ongoing probes, she will have the presidents of three other schools testify next month on their responses to protests and instances of antisemitism on their campuses. The presidents of the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of Michigan; and Yale University will be brought in to testify before Foxx’s committee on May 23. 

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, noted that her panel “oversees agencies that dole out massive amounts of taxpayer funded research grants… We will be increasing our oversight of institutions that have received public funding and cracking down on those who are in violation of the Civil Rights Act.”

“Imagine being a Jewish American, knowing that part of your hard-earned paycheck is going to fund an antisemitic professor’s research, while they threaten students and actively indoctrinate and radicalize the next generation,” McMorris Rodgers said. 

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) said that his panel was reaching out to the State Department and Homeland Security Department to find out “how many students on a visa have engaged in the radical activity we’ve seen now day after day on college campuses.”

“The overriding question is real simple: Are individuals advocating for the destruction of our dearest and closest ally, the State of Israel, and engaged in this antisemitic behavior, is that a national security threat? We think it is,” Jordan said. 

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) hasn’t directly addressed the expanded GOP investigations, but is pushing for the House to consider a bipartisan antisemitism bill in response to the campus incidents.

Jeffries said Wednesday he has no current plans to visit colleges that have been plagued by unrest and anti-Israel encampments. He said he also hasn’t looked at proposals for cutting funding to colleges that are not cracking down on antisemitism, but slammed Republicans for pushing to cut funding to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which investigates antisemitism accusations on campuses.

“Ultimately, it was House Democrats led by [Rep.] Rosa DeLauro [D-CT], that were able to restore the proposed extreme MAGA Republican cut that would have adversely impacted the ability of the Department of Education to combat antisemitism and all other forms of hatred on college campuses,” Jeffries said. “We don’t need rhetoric from some of my Republican colleagues, we need real action.”

The New York congressman expressed support for Columbia University and the New York Police Department’s response to anti-Israel demonstrators who broke into and took over an administrative building on campus.

“As far as I can tell, the efforts by the NYPD were thorough, professional, and they exercised a degree of calm in a very tense situation that should be commended,” he said during a press conference, adding that he did not see any incidents of excessive force.

The Democratic leader said that peaceful protest and civil disobedience are “an important part of the fabric of America” but that protests that threaten others or engage in antisemitism or other bigotry are unacceptable.

He said he had no comment on Democratic lawmakers who have visited the encampments at Columbia to offer support. He also declined to comment on remarks by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) accusing some Jewish students of being “pro-genocide,” noting that he hadn’t spoken to Omar directly.

On the Senate side, where Democrats are in the majority, Republicans have been largely unified in calling for consequences for schools that cannot get their campuses under control, but otherwise lack the power to force any action. 

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) organized a press conference on Wednesday for a group of GOP senators to condemn the encampments, which he referred to as “Little Gazas.”

“These ‘Little Gazas’ are disgusting cesspools of antisemitic hate full of pro-Hamas sympathizers, fanatics, and freaks,” Cotton said. “President Biden needs to denounce Hamas’s campus sympathizers without equivocating about Israelis fighting a righteous war of survival.”

“The State Department needs to yank the visas of foreign students in these ‘Little Gazas’ and DHS needs to deport them,” he added. “The Justice Department should investigate the funding sources behind these ‘Little Gazas,’ and the Department of Education needs to withhold funding for colleges that won’t protect the civil rights of their Jewish students.”

Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), the No. 3 Senate Republican, similarly called for revoking federal support for universities that fail to uphold civil rights laws.

“We have laws in this country to protect against violence, to protect students. Students have a right to be protected. Jewish students, all students on campus, from harassment, from discrimination,” Barrasso said at the weekly leadership press conference. “If not, those colleges should lose their federal funding.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered two floor speeches on the matter within two days. His Tuesday speech likened Columbia protesters to ‘student Nazis of Weimar Germany’ in a call to restore order on the university’s campus, while his Wednesday remarks urged the Biden administration to not focus “on virtue-signaling and political theater to appease the leftist agitators of their base.”

While Republicans have generally been more vocal about their concerns on the matter, there have been some bipartisan calls for action in the upper chamber. 

Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and James Lankford (R-OK) have asked Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to hold a hearing on antisemitism on college campuses in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), the top Republican on the committee, has requested the same.

Asked by JI in the Capitol on Wednesday about organizing a hearing about antisemitism on college campuses, Sanders replied, “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. 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.

Sanders’s office did not respond to JI’s subsequent request for comment on the matter, nor did a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

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