House Republicans have launched an investigation into antisemitism at MIT, Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania, following a hearing with those colleges’ presidents that highlights the GOP’s hypocrisy when it comes to free speech.
Harvard president Claudine Gay, MIT president Sally Kornbluth, and University of Pennsylvania president Elizabeth Magill testified before the House Education and Workforce Committee on Tuesday about their responses to incidents of antisemitism on their campuses. All three women have been criticized for saying that responses to alleged antisemitic instances—including the content of chants popular at pro-Palestinian marches—need to be context-specific.
“After this week’s pathetic and morally bankrupt testimony by university presidents … the Education and Workforce committee is launching an official Congressional investigation with the full force of subpoena power into Penn, MIT, & Harvard and others,” committee Chair Elise Stefanik said in a statement Thursday.
“We will use our full Congressional authority to hold these schools accountable for their failure on the global stage.”
Stefanik had asked the university presidents whether students chanting “Intifada” violated the schools’ codes of conduct. Each president said it would depend on the context, with Gay pointing out that chants she finds “personally abhorrent” could still be protected under freedom of speech. Stefanik then insisted that this chant was calling for “genocide of the Jews,” a contested and subjective interpretation at best. A clip of her questioning that omitted the context—that the line of questioning was rooted on “Intifada” and not calls for genocide—then went viral, creating a firestorm.
Magill explained her stance further in a video on Wednesday, saying that “speech alone is not punishable,” but calls for genocide would be “harassment or intimidation.”
It does not seem to have occurred to Republicans, who regularly pride themselves on being the protectors of free speech, that they have launched a project to essentially police free speech on college campuses. The GOP seems to have no problem upholding free speech when, say, Donald Trump is threatening his political opponents.
Representative Jerry Nadler slammed his Republican colleagues on Tuesday for moves that “weaponize Jewish lives for political gains” while in reality doing nothing to “genuinely counter” antisemitism.
Republicans also don’t seem to have an issue upholding free speech when it relates to Islamophobia. Although they have taken many steps to supposedly address rising antisemitism, they have made no mention of the sharp rise in Islamophobia in recent months.
In fact, many Republicans are actually suppressing the free speech of groups trying to combat Islamophobia. In November, the University of Florida chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine sued state Governor Ron DeSantis, university chancellor Ray Rodrigues, and university president Ben Sasse for barring the group from campus.
The students, backed by the ACLU, accused them of “violating their [First] Amendment rights.”