House Republicans rail against Northwestern, Rutgers for cutting deals with protesters

Republicans on the House Education Committee went on the offensive during a Thursday hearing on college antisemitism that largely focused on deals Northwestern and Rutgers universities made with pro-Palestinian protesters to get their encampments taken down without police force.

“I want to discuss what has been referred to as the Deering Meadows agreement, your unilateral capitulation to the pro-Hamas, anti-Israel, antisemitic” activists, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) told the president of Northwestern.

The heads of Northwestern and Rutgers were called as witnesses after they reached agreements with protesters to get rid of the encampments, while other colleges made headlines after police were used to forcibly clear their demonstrations.

The deals, which were also reached at Brown and Johns Hopkins universities, included concessions ranging from consideration of divestment from Israel to more lenient punishment for student protesters.

Northwestern received the most attention, as it was one of the first schools to come to such an agreement, but President Michael Schill said the school did not cave to any major demands.

“Importantly, I rejected the main student demand of divestment,” Schill said.

“I will not recommend to our board that Northwestern uses the endowment for political purposes,” he added.

Republicans, who have denounced the entire recent pro-Palestinian movement as antisemitic, chastised Rutgers for giving amnesty to student protesters who broke the university’s rules with the encampment in the deal to end the demonstrations.

Education Committee Chair Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) called Rutgers’s agreement “egregious,” adding she wanted to know what message the president thought “that sends to your Jewish students.”

Northwestern and the president of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) said no students have been suspended due to the protests, but investigations are taking place. Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway tallied four suspensions so far on his campus, but he did not clarify what the suspensions were for.

For Northwestern and Rutgers, Democrats largely praised the presidents for their ability to come to a resolution without police force, which was used by many others school and led to the arrests of more than 3,000 individuals on U.S. campuses.

“I’m also concerned about any suggestion that the first step to address protests should be to call police,” Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) said, adding it could put students in danger.

The head of UCLA, Chancellor Gene Block, received far less questioning than the other school leaders despite hundreds of arrests on his campus and fights that broke out after attacks by pro-Israel counterprotesters.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), whose daughter was part of Columbia University’s encampment, got into an argument with Block after he rejected the premise of a question implying the school was not safe for students.

“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 in this committee,” Omar said.

The university leaders avoided the infamous question used at the December antisemitism hearing that led to the eventual ouster of Harvard’s and the University of Pennsylvania’s presidents: Would calls for the genocide of Jewish people be considered harassment on campus?

Some notable moments, however, came when the witnesses were asked who was behind the encampments. UCLA and Northwestern’s presidents said they didn’t know, and Rutgers’s leader said he was “uncertain.”

All three said no when asked if the Israeli government is genocidal, despite the head of Rutgers at first not willing to answer the question.

“Sir, I don’t have an opinion on Israel’s — in terms of that phrase,” Holloway originally said when asked if the Israeli government was genocidal.

Block, describing his upbringing as a Jewish kid with relatives who were Holocaust survivors and victims, said he’s “fully aware that many of our Jewish students, of rhetoric and images on campus that any reasonable person would find repugnant. Trust me, I understand their pain.”

Foxx warned the three at the end of the hearing that the investigations would continue.

Ranking member Bobby Scott (D-Va.), meanwhile, accused Republicans of only holding these hearings to make headlines instead of taking concrete steps to fix the problems on campuses.

“Here we are for the fifth time in six months holding another hearing to complain about the problem” of antisemitism, Scott said, adding there needs to be more done to find a “meaningful solution” to address the issue.

“Complaining about a problem is not a solution,” he added.

Foxx defended her handling of the situation.

“One of Congress’s constitutional powers is to conduct investigations. These are important mechanisms for transparency, bringing bad things to light, informing new legislation to address problems. They uncover and yield accountability. Today’s testimony certainly brought bad things to light,” she said.

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