Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Over the last month, university presidents have been battered by a vocal cohort of alumni and faculty members who have accused them of not being strong enough in their denunciations of antisemitism in the wake of the Hamas attack on Israel.

Now at some high-profile universities that have faced heavy criticism — including Harvard, Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania — presidents are trying to take more direct action to address those concerns about antisemitism.

Columbia suspended two pro-Palestinian student groups on Friday.

At Harvard on Thursday, the university’s president, Claudine Gay, condemned the phrase “from the river to the sea,” which has been called divisive and antisemitic.

At the University of Pennsylvania, the president, Elizabeth Magill, spoke forcefully against antisemitic rhetoric.

And all three universities formed task forces to address antisemitism on campus.

“Let me reiterate what I and other Harvard leaders have said previously: Antisemitism has no place at Harvard,” Dr. Gay wrote in an announcement on Thursday. “While confronting any form of hatred is daunting, the challenges we face tackling antisemitism are made all the more so by its pernicious nature and deep historical roots. But we are committed to doing the hard work to address this scourge.”

Their moves, however, may not quell the anger among donors.

And the actions may only fuel the resolve among pro-Palestinian student activists, who say that they are only speaking up for marginalized, oppressed people living in Gaza. The criticism, they say, is nothing but an attempt to stifle speech and divert attention from a 16-year blockade of Gaza by Israel, backed by Egypt, that has devastated the lives of Palestinians. In addition, many pro-Palestinian students point out that they have faced doxxing and harassment — and they are asking on social media for similar efforts against Islamophobia.

Columbia announced on Friday that it would ban Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace through the end of the fall term, saying that they had violated university policies. The groups have been at the center of weeks of intense demonstrations that have sharply divided students and shaken Columbia’s Manhattan campus. The most recent action, including a walkout, attracted roughly 300 students on Thursday.

Gerald Rosberg, the university’s executive vice president, said in a statement that Thursday’s event “included threatening rhetoric and intimidation” and that the groups had taken their actions “despite warnings” not to do so.

The university’s decision will bar the group from holding events on campus or receiving university funding through the end of the fall semester.

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