‘You will be held accountable’: US Congress questions university presidents over pro-Hamas encampments

Rutgers president Jonathan Holloway appeared to defend the organizers of the encampment on his campus during his testimony, comparing them to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

By Dion J, Pierre, The Algemeiner

US lawmakers on Thursday interrogated the presidents of Northwestern University, Rutgers University, and the University of California, Los Angeles during a three-hour hearing about their responses to pro-Hamas “encampments” which convulsed their campuses at the end of the school year.

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce organized the hearing — titled “Calling for Accountability: Stopping Antisemitic College Chaos” — after an eruption of anti-Zionist protests on college campuses in which students illegally occupied sections of school property and refused to leave unless their schools agreed to condemn and boycott Israel.

Northwestern University president Michael Schill faced the brunt of the committee’s questions, sparring with them over the meaning of antisemitism, his settlement with the organizers of the pro-Hamas encampment, and what constitutes discipline.

“I’m not going to engage in hypotheticals,” Schill told Rep. Burgess Owens (R-UT) when asked if he would have negotiated with Ku Klux Klan members who had threatened and uttered hate speech about Black students.

“It’s striking that you decided to negotiate a sweetheart deal with pro-Hamas students and professors who denied Oct. 7, either denied it, celebrated, or simply don’t care. I look at that as pure evil,” Burgess said in response.

They continued to exchange remarks, with Burgess inquiring into large donations that Northwestern University has received from Qatar, which, Burgess noted, harbors Hamas members. Schill insisted that Hamas’ relationship with Qatar isn’t his “area of expertise,” which prompted Burgess to suggest that he must find it acceptable.

“I really — I’m offended by you telling me what my views are,” Schill retorted, raising his voice.

Schill has been criticized for agreeing — in exchange for the group Students for Justice in Palestine’s (SJP) ending its encampment — to establish a scholarship for Palestinian undergraduates, contact potential employers of students who caused recent campus disruptions to insist on their being hired, and create a segregated dormitory hall that will be occupied exclusively by Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) and Muslim students. He also agreed to form a new advisory committee in which anti-Zionists students and faculty may wield an outsized voice.

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He denied during Thursday’s hearing that he acceded to any of SJP’s demands, including their insistence on divesting from and boycotting Israel.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) said that he did, calling his agreement with SJP — which was called the “Deering Meadow Agreement” throughout the hearing — a “unilateral capitulation. She also accused him of failing to protect Jewish students from the violence of the anti-Zionist protesters, incidents that Schill described as “allegations.”

“Let’s talk about what has occurred on this encampment,” Stefanik said. “Isn’t it true that a Jewish Northwestern student was assaulted?”

“There are allegations that a Jewish student was assaulted. We are investigating those allegations,” Schill said.

Stefanik recounted several more incidents of alleged antisemitic violence — including one in which a Jewish student was spit on — and harassment, pressing Schill to estimate when the school will complete its investigations.

She then excoriated the deal Schill negotiated with SJP, volleying a series of remarks which included her accusing him of pressuring Northwestern Hillel to hire an anti-Zionist Jew as its director.

Schill denied the allegation.

Rutgers University president Jonathan Holloway appeared to defend the organizers of the encampment on his campus during his testimony, comparing them to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who he said was unpopular in his time.

At one point, Holloway refused to answer whether he believes Israel is a “genocidal” country, agreeing only to say that Israel has a right to defend itself. Later, he stated that he does not believe that Israel is genocidal.

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About two hours into the hearing, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) questioned University of California, Los Angeles chancellor Gene Block about his handling of the school’s encampment, an opportunity she used to portray anti-Zionist activists as victims.

Omar called the pro-Hamas group which amassed there “peaceful,” accusing Jewish students of releasing rats into their encampment and calling footage of the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks that pro-Israel activists played near the encampment as a counter-protest “vile and disturbing.”

“You should be ashamed at the fact that you failed your students,” Omar told Block, commenting on a melee that broke out between pro-Hamas and pro-Israel activists during the encampment. “You should be ashamed for letting a peaceful protest gathering get hijacked by an angry mob. You should be ashamed for allowing such violence to take place on your campus, which will now be weaponized by Republicans on this committee. You played right into the hands in laying the ground for attacking institutions of public education, stripping students of their rights, and broader repression of movements.”

Omar also denied that pro-Hamas protesters erected checkpoints around the campus where they refused to let Jewish students cross. Video evidence of that happening was played at the hearing, however.

“Students cannot learn when they feel threatened, and it’s part of our responsibility, I think, to see that students who feel threatened are relieved of that fear,” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) said in concluding the hearing. “Today’s testimony certainly brought bad things to light, beyond the craven deals and shocking inaction we already knew about.”

Foxx went on to accuse Schill of “condescension” and noted that Holloway’s faculty at Rutgers have praised and celebrated Hamas’ violence.

“Today’s hearing is the beginning, not the end, of the committees investigation of your institutions,” she said. “You will be held accountable for your records. Congress will not stand by while you violate your obligations to uphold Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, fail to protect Jewish students, cut deals advancing divestment, and promote terrorism and radical antisemitic ideologies.”

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On Thursday, the executive director of the Academic Engagement Network — which promotes diversity viewpoints and academic freedom — told The Algemeiner during an interview that Holloway’s handling of antisemitism at Rutgers, particularly the antisemitism of the faculty at the Center for Security, Race, and Rights (CSSR) at its Newark campus, should continue to be scrutinized during the course of the committee’s investigation.

“Holloway admitted at one point that anti-Israel political advocacy is not an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars, yet the CSSR at the Newark campus that he funds through the chancellor’s office is absolutely doing that,” Miriam Elman said. “CSSR is an anti-Israel advocacy academic unit in which Jewish students do not feel welcome, and even after he admitted that its conduct is inappropriate, he would not commit to shutting it down, which is a contradiction that needs to be called out.”

Elman added that a faculty group of AEN members formed the Jewish Faculty, Administrators, and Staff (JFAS) group over ten years ago to raise awareness of their concerns about antisemitism at Rutgers and were ignored.

“They have been repeatedly asking for more attention to antisemitism and more viewpoint diversity on Israel, particularly at Newark, and getting nowhere,” she continued. “I couldn’t even believe that a committee member [Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-PA)] actually mentioned them in their testimony, because they, like the committee, believe that there should have been no negotiations with or acceding to the demands of the protesters. Not only did doing so reward bad behavior, it allowed a radical few to determine these outcomes over the voices of everybody else.”