It is obvious from last week’s disappointing hearing in the House Committee on Education and the Workforce that presidents of our major universities have absolutely no understanding of where constitutionally protected free speech ends and where an assault on one’s very identity as a Jew begins. The failure of these three university presidents to say that the calling for a genocide of the Jewish people, after the sadistic savagery of October 7th, does not violate campus policies is legally, morally, and ethically reprehensible.
Our Jewish students are under assault. Across the United States, Jewish students in almost every university report being verbally threatened, bullied, and intimidated. Hillel International reports that assaults on Jewish students have risen 700 percent since the barbaric Hamas massacres of October 7th. Many of our Jewish students are feeling threatened, isolated, abandoned, and terrified. Sometimes verbal harassment degenerates into physical attacks. Many students who are identifiably Jewish report that they are sometimes afraid to cross the campus or the quad.
It is difficult for many of our Jewish students to be amenable to classroom instruction—which is precisely why there are protections for almost every other minority group– when there is a bullhorn on their campus calling for the destruction of the Jewish state and the genocide of the Jewish people.
Worse still: When our Jewish students go to DEI officers, college administrators, and deans with their complaints, they are often met with indifference and little to no support around their very justifiable needs for protection.
What is needed today, more than ever before, is one standard definition of antisemitism that can be employed across the board throughout our federal agencies; one that can be used as a tool for university administrators and our K through 12th grade principals. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism provides such a tool. It has been employed for years now, by our Department of State, and it has been accepted by 43 nations across the globe, and every major Jewish organization.
Yet, our Department of Education, our principals, and university administrators seem to equivocate, responding with morally ambiguous statements of “context” and moral relevancy, hiding behind First Amendment rights, exclusively when it comes to their Jewish students.
We suggest to you that you play a mental experiment and substitute any other ethnic minority for the harassment our Jewish students have received. We think you know what the response would be.
The IHRA definition is necessary because it says that an assault on the very existence or creation of the state of Israel is one example of antisemitism. The Antisemitism Awareness Act strongly recommends that the IHRA definition be used as a vital tool for these educational institutions to be able to distinguish when the line has been crossed from policy disagreements about Israel to calling for the eradication of Israel and the death of Jews.
Why is this so important?
Listen to the November 8th testimony before the House Judiciary Committee of a brave student from Cornell University, Amanda Silverstein, that exemplifies what many Jewish students throughout the United States are going through today:
“Growing up with first-hand accounts of what my grandfather endured during the Holocaust, I could never comprehend how neighbors and friends stood by as Jews were rounded up to be killed. And how governments around the world turned a blind eye—Until now. Witnessing such unbridled and unapologetic anti-Semitism on college campuses is a testament to the impacts of permitting Jew-hatred to fester and infect the mob mentality of impressionable students. It is shocking that college campuses have devolved into echo chambers fostering animosity, aggression, and bigotry, a shift that is painfully reminiscent of the vitriol and terror my grandfather endured in the 1930s. Antisemitism can no longer be hidden under the guise of anti-Zionism. Disseminating lies about Israel is an effort to validate violence against Jews. I am grateful for the supportive words from the Cornell administration, but action speaks louder than words.
We require tangible measures including strict adherence to policies that forbid threatening or intimidating behavior towards any student and ensure purveyors of violence are removed from campus. No student should ever live in fear for their safety, regardless of background or religion. What is happening at Cornell and universities across the country is not about protecting expressions of free speech or the free exchange of ideas. It is about enabling and even promoting intimidation and the threat of harm to Jewish students and supporters of Israel. It is imperative that decisive action be taken to ensure the collective safety of students.”
To make sure that our students do not have to endure what Amanda and countless other Jewish students must endure call your member of Congress at (202) 225-3121 or your Senators at (202) 224-3121.
Thank you very much.
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