Stefanik grills Harvard president over students calling for ‘intifada,’ rampant antisemitism on campus

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., laced into Harvard University President Dr. Claudine Gay during a House committee hearing on the rise of antisemitism on college campuses on Tuesday, challenging that the Ivy League school’s leader answer “Harvard student calling for the mass murder of African-Americans is not protected free speech at Harvard, correct?” 

Stefanik demanded that Gay respond to the “yes or no question,” before asking the Harvard president if she was familiar with the term “intifada” and cited multiple instances of Harvard students chanting, “There is only one solution. Intifada, Revolution,” and “globalize the intifada” since Hamas’ October 7 massacre and Israel’s counteroffensive in Gaza that followed. 

The House GOP chair stated, “the use of the term intifada in the context of the Israeli-Arab conflict is indeed a call for violent armed resistance against the state of Israel, including violence against, civilians and the genocide of Jews.” Gay admitted she had heard the term before and said, “That type of hateful speech is personally abhorrent to me.” 

While Gay admitted that speech calling for intifada, and therefore genocide against the Jewish people in Israel and globally, was “at odds with the values of Harvard,” but deflected when pressed by Stefanik if those sorts of remarks were against Harvard University’s code of conduct. 

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“We embrace a commitment to free expression, even of that are objectionable, offensive, hateful. It’s when that speech crosses into conduct that violates our policies against bullying,” Gay said. Stefanik pressed, “Does that speech not cross that barrier? Does that speech not call for the genocide of Jews and the elimination of Israel? When you testify that you understand that is the definition of intifada, is that speech according to the code of conduct or not?” 

Claudine Gay, president of Harvard University, during a House Education and the Workforce Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023.  (Haiyun Jiang/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“We embrace a commitment to free expression and give a wide berth to free expression, even of views that are objectionable,” Gay said in response. 

Stefanik cited a report stating that Harvard ranked “dead last” when it comes to freedom of speech on college campuses in America. 

“Will admissions offers be rescinded or any disciplinary action be taken against students or applicants who say from the river to the sea or intifada, advocating for the murder of Jews?” Stefanik pressed, to which Gay responded, “As said, that type of hateful, reckless, offensive speech is personally abhorrent to me.” 

But Stefanik demanded to know what action will be taken specifically against “students who are harassing and calling for the genocide of Jews on Harvard’s campus?” 

“When speech crosses into conduct that violates our policies, including policies against bullying, harassment or intimidation, we take action, and we have robust disciplinary processes that allow to hold individuals accountable,” Gay said, deflecting at first. She assured that measures were underway but declined to get into specifics. 

Stefanik grills Harvard president

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., during a House Education and the Workforce Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023.  (Haiyun Jiang/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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“Given students’ rights to privacy and our obligation under SHERPA, I will not say more about any specific cases other than to reiterate that processes are ongoing,” Gay said. 

Unable to get an answer from Gay on specific actions taken against students accused of antisemitism, Stefanik concluded by asking what the number one hate crime in America is. 

“I know that over the last couple of months there has been an alarming rise of anti-Semitism, which I understand is the critical topic that we are here to discuss,” Gay said. 

“That’s correct. It is anti-Jewish hate crimes,” Stefanik responded. “And Harvard ranks the lowest when it comes to protecting Jewish students. This is why I’ve called for your resignation and your testimony today — not being able to answer with more clarity speaks volumes. I yield back.” 

Harvard, MIT and UPenn presidents

Sally Kornbluth, president of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), right, shakes hands with House Workforce and Education Committee Chair Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023.  (Haiyun Jiang/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

At their press conference earlier Tuesday, the House Republican Conference heard from multiple students from Harvard, UPenn and MIT before the hearing. 

Harvard student Jonathan Frieden said, “Multiple times a week on my way to class, I walk by mobs of people chanting ‘from the river to the sea’… I talk to my Jewish friends on campus every day. They tell me how afraid they are to go to class.”

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“President Gay’s willingness to call chants of ‘Intifada’ and other hateful antisemitic speech ‘abhorrent’ is reassuring, but the next step is action. When students are saying ‘from the river to the sea Palestine will be Arab’ and clearly calling for violence against Jewish communities – and even interrupting classes to do so – we need to hear Harvard clearly state how it will discipline those who are voicing these hateful views,” another student, Charlie Covit, an activist for the Israel on Campus Coalition, said in a statement to Fox News Digital. 

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