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Ivy League Universities Face Criticism for Handling Antisemitism Amid War in Gaza

Shabbos Kestenbaum, a Harvard graduate student, has criticized Ivy League universities, including Harvard, UPenn, and MIT, for what he perceives as an ironic turn toward “free speech absolutism” amidst the war in Gaza. During a congressional hearing, Kestenbaum highlighted instances of antisemitism on campuses, citing the removal of posters addressing the plight of a 10-month-old Jewish baby in Gaza.

Free Speech Absolutism Critique

Kestenbaum dismissed the universities’ recent claims of becoming “free speech absolutists” overnight, emphasizing Harvard’s low ranking in free speech among American universities. He expressed skepticism about the sudden shift in stance, especially given the ongoing challenges of antisemitism at these elite institutions.

Congressional Hearing Raises Concerns

Rep. Elise Stefanik questioned Ivy League presidents about the surge in antisemitism on college campuses during a recent congressional hearing. The presidents, including UPenn’s Liz Magill, faced scrutiny for their responses, insisting that the acceptability of antisemitic expressions would depend on the “context.”

Potential $100 Million Donation Withdrawal

UPenn faces the risk of losing a significant $100 million donation from Ross Stevens, the CEO of Stone Ridge Asset Management. Stevens linked the potential withdrawal to a demand for a change in leadership at UPenn, specifically calling for the replacement of President Liz Magill.

Magill’s Retraction and Response

President Magill attempted to clarify her earlier testimony in a video posted on X. She acknowledged a lapse in not explicitly condemning calls for the genocide of Jewish people during the congressional hearing. However, Kestenbaum criticized her response, deeming it insufficient and lacking a genuine apology.

Concerns About Campus Atmosphere

While Kestenbaum has not personally experienced antisemitic attacks, he expressed discomfort with the classroom atmosphere, stating that his political perspective is not granted credibility. He called for President Biden to take a more definitive stance on antisemitism and expressed disappointment with what he perceives as a lack of action.

Rising Antisemitism Statistics

According to the Anti-Defamation League, antisemitism has surged by 388% since the conflict with Hamas began in October. Kestenbaum’s remarks highlight the broader concerns about addressing antisemitism on college campuses and the role of university leadership in fostering inclusive environments.

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