University presidents seek to clarify their position on calls for Jewish genocide after backlash

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The presidents of the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) and Harvard University posted comments online Wednesday seeking to clarify their position after refusing to state unequivocally that calling for the genocide of Jews violates their bullying rules.

The presidents were joined by the president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on Tuesday when reprimanded in Congress for their responses to the rise of anti-Semitism on their respective campuses since the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7.

Lawmakers asked presidents whether calling for the genocide of Jews violated schools’ bullying and harassment policies. School presidents generally said the speech could be investigated if necessary, but it would be a decision based on context if it violated school policies.

Harvard President Claudine Gay, who took some of the biggest hits at the hearing, said it has been a difficult task to balance free speech and student safety during these times. In a statement posted online, she said: “There are some who have confused the right to free speech with the idea that Harvard will tolerate calls for violence against Jewish students.”

“Let me be clear: calls for violence or genocide against the Jewish community, or any religious or ethnic group, are vile, have no place at Harvard, and those who threaten our Jewish students will be held accountable.” gay said.

UPenn President Liz Magill also released a video after the hearing to clarify his statements on Tuesday.

“At that time, I focused on our University’s long-standing policies, aligned with the United States Constitution, which say that speech alone is not punishable,” Magill said in the video. “I did not focus, but should have, on the irrefutable fact that a call for the genocide of the Jewish people is a call for some of the most terrible violence that human beings can perpetrate.”

Magill went on to say that, in his opinion, a call for the genocide of the Jews “would be harassment or intimidation.”

He said UPenn and other universities should review and clarify their policies, as hate is running rampant across campus “in a way that hasn’t been seen in years.” Magill said he would immediately “convene a process” with the chancellor to “seriously and carefully” analyze the university’s policies.

MIT President Sally Kornbluth has not issued a statement following her testimony at the hearing. At the hearing, she said that she was not aware of any calls for the genocide of Jews on the MIT campus.

The remarks come after the Biden administration, Republican presidential candidates and several lawmakers have commented on their answers of the audience.

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