Dec. 8, 2023—
Calls to genocide have featured prominently in the global antisemitism crisis, especially since October 7. College campuses have been notable hotbeds of antisemitism and pro-Hamas advocacy, some of which directly evokes Nazi tropes of “cleaning” the world or of Jewish bloodthirst.
We’ve seen how turning a blind eye to antisemitic rhetoric has real-world consequences. From Ancient Arabia to Medieval Europe, to the Holocaust to today’s institutions of higher education, calls to genocide have preceded pogroms and massacres for centuries. The Holocaust taught us what happens when leaders ignore this rhetoric.
Earlier this week, the Presidents of three of America’s most prominent universities were called to testify before Congress regarding rampant campus antisemitism. Liz Magill of the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Claudine Gay of Harvard University, and Dr. Sally Kornbluth of MIT were all asked a simple question: Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate their campus policies on harassment and bullying?
The answer should have been simple: of course it does. But as we’ve seen time and again, people overcomplicate simple issues when Jews are involved.
Rather than making clear that such rhetoric is unacceptable on their campuses, all three Presidents equivocated.
“It depends on the context.”
“If the speech turns into conduct.”
“If targeted at individuals.”
These aren’t just wrong answers. They are shameful. There is no context in which calling for a genocide of Jews does not target, bully, or harass individual Jews, and it is offensively absurd to countenance waiting for genocidal speech to turn into action.
MIT’s President said she hadn’t heard calls for genocide on her campus, defining calls for a ‘global intifada’ as “chants which can be antisemitic depending on the context.” Her response ignores the indiscriminately antisemitic terrorist violence central to both intifadas, responsible for the murder and wounding of thousands of Israeli civilians. “Globalizing the intifada” would mean more suicide bombings, more shootings, and more stabbings, this time targeting Jews the world over – including on college campuses.
If a rally at one of these universities glorified other historical examples of racist violence, or, worse, called for the global murder of any other minority, we know the response would be different.
Frustratingly, all three Presidents appealed to the First Amendment’s free speech protections to defend their mealy-mouthed stances. That canard should not distract from the true issue at hand: regardless of whether students and professors are legally allowed to call for the murder of Jews, administrators should leap at the chance to condemn such calls in the strongest terms and at the first instance.
Harvard and Penn have since belatedly issued statements to that effect, but it’s hard to take them seriously. When it mattered most to set an example as Upstanders, they failed on a national stage.
Hate crimes are up 60% since October 7, with the bulk of that increase attributable to antisemitic crime. 73% of Jewish college students have either seen or experienced antisemitism on campus during this school year.
The Presidents of MIT, Penn, and Harvard may be prominent, but they are by no means unique. We continue to see this activity on college campuses throughout the United States. Any administrators’ equivocation on this issue means that they cannot credibly commit to protecting their Jewish students.
Confronting this issue requires clear eyes and clear language. Does your alma mater clearly reject calls to terrorism and genocide against Jews? If not, make your voice heard. Now is the time to honor the victims and survivors of the Holocaust by taking action as an Upstander.