Republicans, and even some Democrats, focused on getting rid of specific university faculty who they say used antisemitic rhetoric.

House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) speaks during a press conference held before a hearing on Columbia University’s response to antisemitism on Capitol Hill April 17, 2024. | Francis Chung/POLITICO

House lawmakers on Wednesday grilled Columbia University’s leaders over their enforcement of antisemitism discipline policies for students and faculty.

But unlike her Ivy League colleagues, whose responses at an earlier antisemitism hearing landed them in turmoil, Columbia President Minouche Shafik left the event largely unscathed.

Republicans mostly fell flat if they were trying to generate another viral moment from questioning an Ivy League university president like they did in December. Shafik seemed far more prepared than the presidents of Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who testified before the committee that month.

She told one GOP lawmaker that she spent “many hours” preparing, and another GOP lawmaker congratulated her on “saying the right things.”

“Columbia beats Harvard and UPenn!” Rep. Aaron Bean (R-Fla.) said. “Y’all have done something that they weren’t able to do. You’ve been able to condemn antisemitism without using the phrase: ‘It depends on the context.’ But the problem is: Action on campus doesn’t match your rhetoric today.”

Unlike the previous antisemitism hearing, lawmakers did not call for Shafik to resign. Republicans, and even some Democrats, focused on getting rid of university faculty who they say used antisemitic rhetoric.

Shafik, who testified alongside Board of Trustees Co-Chairs Claire Shipman and David Greenwald, and law professor David Schizer, one of the university’s antisemitism taskforce chairs, answered personnel questions about faculty and students, and attempted to address some of the bizarre questions from GOP lawmakers about the Bible and the definition of the term “folx.”

Questions about whether protests on campus were anti-Jewish or anti-Muslim, or if phrases used by students were antisemitic, however, gave Shafik pause. In those moments the other Columbia leaders chimed in — but that didn’t stop lawmakers from poking holes in Shafik’s testimony.

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), who helms the House education panel, called some of Shafik’s testimony misleading, and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who had previously given the other presidents the toughest grilling, tried to accuse Shafik of changing her testimony.

Here are the top five moments from the hearing.

Stefanik tried, and tried, and tried, to create a memorable scene

The No. 4 Republican in the House, who was the first lawmaker to take her seat in the hearing room, showed up with a thick stack of documents littered with yellow sticky notes. Stefanik pressed Shafik on faculty who made antisemitic statements and how they were disciplined — which often wasn’t strict enough for Stefanik.

“On my watch, faculty who make remarks that cross the line in terms of antisemitism, there will be consequences for them,” Shafik said. “I have five cases at the moment who have either been taken out of the classroom or dismissed.”

She also accused Shafik of changing her testimony under oath several times about the status of a professor on campus and disciplinary actions taken against him by the school, among other topics.

But Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) stole the line of questioning that helped Stefanik go viral in December and tanked Harvard and Penn’s presidents.

“Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Columbia’s code of conduct?” Bonamici asked the four witnesses.

All responded: “Yes.”

The Oregon Democrat told POLITICO ahead of the hearing that she hoped the hearing would focus on actionable items on how to address antisemitism on campus “rather than a sort of gotcha.”

Faculty were under the microscope

Stefanik asked whether there have been disciplinary actions for Joseph Massad, a professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history. He wrote an October article that called Hamas’ actions “astounding,” “awesome” and “striking.” The article was used by some Columbia students to launch a petition calling for his removal.

Shafik told Stefanik that Massad was told his language was “unacceptable” and “he has not repeated anything like that ever since.” She also said he had been removed from his position as chair of the Academic Review committee.

But Rep. Kathy Manning (D-N.C.) took it a step further, asking Shafik: “Why is that professor still teaching at Columbia?”

Shafik said that there is a process for when faculty cross the line, but acknowledged that Massad is still on faculty.

Then Stefanik swung again, saying that Massad was still listed online as the chair of the Academic Review committee. “So he hasn’t been removed? So you said in front of Congress under oath that he was removed?” Stefanik said. “Well I’ll tell you what, he’s still listed as chair.”

Stefanik then pushed Shafik to commit to removing Massad as chair immediately.

Shafik later said Massad was under investigation, but then told Stefanik that she would remove him from the post.

Columbia law professor Katherine Franke and visiting professor Mohamed Abdou were also mentioned. Abdou was slammed by lawmakers for writing on social media that he is “with the muqawamah (the resistance) be it Hamas and Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad.”

“He will never work at Columbia again,” Shafik said when asked about Abdou’s employment at the university. “He has been terminated.”

“I’m very personally committed to making sure that our faculty do not cross the line in terms of discrimination and harassment,” Shafik later added. “We have mechanisms that are now being enforced and on my watch, they will be enforced. I think many of these appointments were made in the past in a different era and that era is done.”

Lawmakers squabbled about the Bible and ‘folx’

GOP lawmakers asked bizarre questions about a document distributed among students in the university’s school of social work, whether Shafik knew what folx meant and if Shafik wanted “God to curse” her institution.

Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) asked Shafik whether she knew what the terms “Ashkenormativity” and “folx” meant because they were listed in a student document disseminated in the institution’s school of social work. The moment fell flat as Shafik refuted Banks’ claim that the document was officially issued by the institution. She said she did not use those terms and did not know what they meant.

“Is this how Columbia University spells the word ‘folks’?” Banks said.

To which Shafik responded: “No.”

Shafik was also quizzed on her knowledge of the Bible.

“Are you familiar with Genesis 12:3?” Rep. Rick Allen (R-Ga.) asked Shafik. “It was a covenant that God made with Abraham … If you bless Israel, I will bless you. If you curse Israel, I will curse you … Do you consider that a serious issue? I mean, do you want Columbia University to be cursed by God?”

“Definitely not,” Shafik said.

Allen discussed “lawless universities” and suggested the school should offer a course about the Bible and “kinda what will happen under the wrath of God.”

Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.) later pushed back on Allen’s questioning, arguing that the “injection of biblical theology into this committee hearing is inappropriate.”

Top Democrat invoked “Unite the Right” rallies

The committee’s ranking member Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) pushed back on the idea that antisemitism on college campuses is new. He showed video clips of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, which wound through the University of Virginia, to demonstrate that antisemitism and other forms of discrimination have been a problem on college campuses for some time.

“What we saw in the video was not an isolated event,” Scott said in his opening remarks. He called it a byproduct of the country’s “long history of white supremacy and antisemitism,” and said people “should not feign surprise at hate speech on America’s college campuses.”

“Fact is that college campuses are polarized, as is our society, and we have witnessed a disturbing rise in incidents not only of antisemitism but also in racism, Islamophobia, homophobia and other forms of hate,” he went on to say.

But committee Democrats varied in their approach to questioning Shafik and the other witnesses. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) brought up Islamophobia, Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) wanted students to testify instead of “fancy universities,” and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) asked Shafik whether there’s been any anti-Muslim, Arab, Palestinian or Jewish protests on campus. Meanwhile, Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-N.M.) mentioned previous GOP proposed budget cuts to the Education Department’s civil rights arm and said the committee would be more productive if it took up Manning’s bipartisan antisemitism bill.

Manning herself was dogged on what steps Columbia should take to combat antisemitic rhetoric and actions.

“Step one is to make sure that there is rigorous antisemitism training in your antidiscrimination course that all your students are supposed to take,” Manning, who is Jewish, said. “Step two is having that same training for your faculty members, and step three is making sure that your Middle East Studies Department does not ferment antisemitism by teaching that Israel is illegitimate as a state and that Jews should be murdered to get rid of Israel.”

Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Mich.) asked Shafik about what the consequences are for antisemitic behavior on campus.

Shafik told lawmakers a student or faculty member could be potentially suspended or forced to undergo training about antisemitism. But she believes that “expulsion is a very extreme act.”

McClain pushed Shafik further, asking her to say whether statements used by some protesters were antisemitic.

“Are mobs shouting ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ or ‘long live the intifada,’ are those antisemitic comments?” she said.

“It’s a difficult issue because some people hear it as antisemitic, other people do not,” Shafik responded, after refusing to deem the statements as antisemitic.

But David Schizer, who is on her antisemitism taskforce, said those chants are antisemitic. Shafik later agreed with McClain that those chants are considered antisemitic behavior and there should be consequences for it.

Source: Politico

By admin