WASHINGTON, D.C. — The president of the University of Pennsylvania on Tuesday defended her university’s response of managing the political fallout to the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas on Israel, saying the university was challenged to walk a fine line between shutting off antisemitic sentiments while still permitting free speech.

Elizabeth “Liz” Magill’s remarks to the U.S. House Committee on Education and Workforce came as Penn has been under incredible pressure, especially from some of its most wealthy and influential alumni donors, for being perceived as fostering a culture in which antisemitism has grown unchecked.

Magill’s testimony at the three-hour hearing was in stark contrast to comments made by current Penn student, Eyal Yakoby, a senior studying political science. Just prior to the hearing, several students gave impassioned talks about the current state of affairs on university campuses across the country.  

Yakoby spoke directly about Penn. “Despite what my university says, I do not feel safe. Let me  be clear, I do not feel safe.” He explained in great detail why he does not feel safe. “‘You’re a dirty, little Jew, and you deserve to die’ and ‘Glorious October 7’ are words said not by Hamas but by my classmates and professors.” 

Yakoby blames the dramatic rise in antisemitism on the Penn president and administration. “Penn’s ambivalence fuels the crisis that has shattered my academic sanctuary. Policies meant to safeguard us have become hollow promises.”

Magill, in her opening remarks, condemned the terrorist attacks by Hamas and stated her “unyielding commitment” to campus safety for Jewish students and also Muslim students. She stated that safety and free expression are sometimes competing principles, but the university has a “moral responsibility to get it right.” 

She spoke about Penn’s action plan to counter the antisemitic behavior on campus and also acknowledged an increase of hate against Muslim students. The university has formed a task force to focus on safety, engagement, and education to address the current situation.

According to Yakoby, the situation is dire. “I am here today because the Penn I attend today is unrecognizable from the Penn I once used to know.” It is now a “chilling landscape of hatred and hostility.”

Yakoby was not the only person to state that Jewish students are not safe on the Penn campus. During the hearing, Representative Glenn Grothman (R-WI) said that a Jewish parent in his constituency has a child at Penn who is afraid to walk to the library. Magill responded that she wanted more details on that student to address the situation. 

In one of the most confrontational moments of the hearing, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R – NY) asked the three university presidents if calls for a Jewish genocide would be considered a violation of the university’s code of conduct.

“If the speech turns into conduct, it can be harassment, yes.” Magill answered.

As Stefanik pressed the line of questioning, Magill again said, “If the speech becomes conduct, it can be harassment, yes.”

“Conduct meaning committing the act of genocide?” Stefanik asked back with an incredulous tone.

Magill was one of three university presidents called to testify at the hearing, alongside Harvard President Claudine Gay, and MIT President Sally Knorbluth. Throughout questioning, Magill alongside her colleagues often deflected issues raised by House members and stuck to a script that their institutions do not tolerate acts of bullying, intimidation, or harassment. Magill was quick to add that Penn’s policies on free speech follow the U.S. Constitution.

The line between free speech and antisemitic words and actions was front and center at the standing room only hearing. Committee members on both sides of the aisle pressed Magill for answers about her past actions or lack thereof.

Representative Elise Stepanik (R-NY) pointedly asked whether a rally calling for an intifada crossed the line between free speech and a safety issue. “Ms. Magill, does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Penn’s rules or code of conduct, yes or no?”

Magill did not answer that question directly.  She said, “if the speech turns into conduct, it can be harassment. It is a context-dependent decision.” Stephanik continued to press Magill to answer definitively that calling for the eradication of Jews is a violation of Penn’s policies, but Magill would not.

Representative Donald Norcross (D-NJ) questioned Magill about a pro-Palestinian event, Palestine Writes Literature Festival, held on campus in September. He asked whether she has the authority to cancel conferences and if her team discussed potential safety and security issues. She said that there were discussions around the event, but ultimately “canceling the conference would have been inconsistent with our policies.”

Several representatives pushed back on Magill about what they perceived as selective freedom of speech policies.

Walberg (R-MI) remarked that Penn’s “commitment to free speech is subjective.”

Banks (R-IA) claimed that Penn “regulates speech it doesn’t like.” Magill responded that she “disagreed with that assertion.”

Despite Magill’s testimony condemning the Hamas attacks and acknowledging that Israel as a state has a right to exist, her answers raised more questions rather than giving assurances to Jewish students and their families. 

Magill’s actions have led to “a full blown crisis” according to senior Yakoby.  And this crisis extends beyond the students and faculty. Donors have publicly denounced Penn and stated that they will not continue to support the university. Some have called for Magill’s resignation.

Her statements shortly after the attacks did little to alleviate fear amongst Jewish students. “I stand, and Penn stands, emphatically against antisemitism,” Magill said. “We have a moral responsibility — as an academic institution and a campus community — to combat antisemitism and to educate our community to recognize and reject hate. I look forward to continuing to work with Jewish leaders, faculty, students, and staff at Penn and elsewhere to ensure we are fostering a safe and inclusive environment.”

Based on her testimony today and the statements made by Yakoby, Magill has done very little to foster a safe and inclusive environment for Jewish students and faculty. Her comments today fly in the face of what is actually happening on campus. The fact that she does not know that Jewish students are afraid to walk to the library or visit the student union for fear of antisemitic behavior is egregious.   

Magill testified that Penn has a “moral responsibility to get it right” when it comes to balancing free speech with antisemitic behavior. She has had almost two months to get it right, and donors, supporters, and students have determined that she has failed to get it right. 

“It is time for the soul of our university to reclaim its integrity, and it is time for me and my fellow classmates to stop worrying for our lives.” In his closing statement, Yakoby summarized the current crisis.  The question remains whether Magill is the person to lead the charge.

Beth Ann Rosica resides in West Chester, has a Ph.D. in Education, and has dedicated her career to advocating on behalf of at-risk children and families. She covers education issues for Broad + Liberty. Contact her at barosica@broadandliberty.com.

16 thoughts on “Beth Ann Rosica: Penn president’s shocking equivocation on antisemitism”

  1. I find it hard to believe that these three presidents would have said that “it depends upon the context” if the question posed to them was “would the calling for the genocide of blacks be considered a violation of the university’s code of conduct?”

  2. The three amigos position on speech is the product of being so committed to ideology they can no longer see the connect between speech turning into hate and consequential action. Speech calling for genocide is OK as long as it does not become action is a preposterous assertion. If Ms. Magill were in my logic and scientific method class. she would get a gigantic red “F”. Not all speech is “free speech” as illustrated years ago with the example of yelling fire in a crowded theatre. The linking of words and actions. My final observation is that university or college leaders all have feet of clay. High sounding words rise up toward the heavens from them, but their feet remain firmly rooted in the clay.

  3. Howard, George, Larry:
    During 2020, the people that controlled almost everything were mostly Jewish. An obvious example is Dr. Levine, a dual citizen and insane person. Shocker! Do not get too exasperated about acknowledging actual facts.
    Next fact: during 2020 most extremely poor children were fed by government schools… and they were closed… by?
    Now uneducated people are in the streets, after being taught by kind-of-Jewish leaders to hate privilege and also being taught there are no consequences, so they are seeking out the people that run everything. Are you really not understanding? Chinese Communist Party members are laughing very hard.

  4. Michael Sweeney – your true colors have emerged repeatedly and they’re even uglier than I anticipated. Your comments are anti-Semitic. Levine’s religion is completely irrelevant.

    1. Agree — Levine is a nutcase and a liar, but that would be true no matter her faith or ethnicity. Leave religion out of it!

  5. Again, I ask, does anyone monitor these comments or is dangerous anti-Semitic rhetoric going to be allowed to run rampant here?

    1. This is funny.

      Michael writes a comment about the unfortunate optics of Jewish influence in terrible policies in government and THAT is what Jenn gets irked about?

      Where is your outrage at these “leaders” of educational institutions? Despite the tone you want to insinuate into Michael’s position, he’s not advocating genocide or collectively punishing Jews for being Jewish.

      Spare everyone the faux liberal outrage and comment on what these 3 pathetic, spineless excuses for Americans did and continue to do.

  6. Intifada does not mean genocide. Elise Stefanik doesn’t get to re-write the dictionary to suit her purposes.

    1. I don’t know, pal, they both result in a lot of people being killed because of who they are. Sounds like genocide to me, you crumb-bum!

  7. 50 years ago I received my degree from the University of Pennsylvania. I have always been proud of that until Liz Magill’s testimony before the Congressional committee. If she were an executive in a publicly-traded company she would be fired. As such, she should be fired – and without a “golden parachute!”

  8. There’s nothing faux about my outrage. There’s hypocrisy in ignoring the anti-Semitic comments on this thread while criticizing Penn. When you see someone making an anti-Semitic comment in real time, Dung, you let it pass! Talk about selective outrage. And I will not comment on this hearing until I actually see it for myself because I don’t trust Beth’s reportage in general. No, Sweeney doesn’t call for genocide, but that’s your line??? As long as Sweeney doesn’t call for actual murder, you’re good with his anti-Semitic comments. You can’t abide by the Penn president saying context matters, but defend antisemitism in the context of Sweeney’s comment. Living up to your name, Dung.

    1. I think it’s funny that you chose to ignore the disgusting display by University of Penn’s President and try to pivot the attention on some guy in the comment section and alleviate your sense of cognitive dissonance.

      I am a big fan of Israel’s right to exist and Jewish people being as successful as possible – as all people should be. It is a bit silly to think that most Jews should feel more comfortable at a Republican Presidential Rally than a University campus – and silly, to spell it out, because Jews tend to vote against Republicans and support the most absurd liberal positions.

      But here we are. Dems are tied in knots how to appease the violent progressive base through parsing words and laying on their backs in a submissive pose while the Jewish people re stunned at the lack of support.

      That’s not even ironic. It’s sad.

      Mike Walsh – you think if any conservative group marched down walnut through campus calling for intifada – putting aside their Protestors receive support in organizing from terrorist organizations, their messages mirror the calls and talking points of terrorist organizations- they would be allowed to by UPenn? They would call it racist and harassment and bullying.

      Come on.

      Calling this place overly political is kinda missing the point of its mission. They wrote from a center right view point to provide alternative views from nearly EVERY OTHER PUBLICATION AND ONLINE NEWS SOURCE IN THE TRI-STATE AREA.

      Go complain on their comment sections and remind them they claim to be unbiased. Not here.

  9. The author states, “Magill has done very little to foster a safe and inclusive environment for Jewish students and faculty.” How does she know that’s true? Have she been in her office during meetings regarding security? Have she seen internal Penn memos stating as much? Have she even been on campus? One or two Jewish students stating that they are scared does mean that Magill hasn’t done anything for security. Lots of people are scared to walk around Philly, and they aren’t all Jewish.

    The article was objective and informative until the last few paragraphs when it became partisan. I suppose that’s a requirement at Broad and Liberty. Many people seem to have forgotten about the right to free speech in our constitution. While I don’t agree with calls to eradicate Israel, I applaud Penn’s respect for the right to free speech. There are just as many calls to eradicate Palestine. In fact, that is what Israel is doing.

    Btw, perhaps a balanced article explaining what antisemitism is and what it is not would be helpful.

  10. Everyone responding to this seems to believe that some one on the Penn campus called for the eradication of Israel, and yet there is no evidence that such a statement was made. Do you all need to be reminded that there are extremists on both sides. And the question that Stefanick posed was a hypothetical. It hasn’t actually happened.

  11. Hypotheticals are poised to ascertain what the respondent would do if the actual event occurred. Gives a pretty good indication of what to expect from the respondent. Just a hypothetical is far too dismissive of the problematic. Saying “just a hypothetical” often leads to “we didn’t know this would be the person’s response. I am shocked and dismayed by the phrase: “During 2020, the people that controlled almost everything were mostly Jewish.” Phrases very much like that were found in 1930’s Germany in an attempt to dehumanize Jews and spread the myth of Jews controlling all economic life. Spread mostly by Der Sturm and other Nazi newspapers, it was also found in America as a common belief about the Jews. I pray we are not turning into a model of 1938 Nuremburg.

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