NEW YORK (AP) — New York’s governor has called on the state’s colleges and universities to swiftly address cases of antisemitism and what she described as any “calls for genocide” on campus after Ivy League presidents faced backlash for not adequately condemning threats of violence against Jewish students during congressional testimony earlier this week.
In a letter to college and university presidents on Saturday, Gov. Kathy Hochul said her administration would enforce violations of the state’s Human Rights Law and refer any violations of federal civil rights law to U.S. officials.
“As Governor of New York I want to reinforce that colleges and universities not in compliance with federal and state laws protecting students against discrimination can be deemed ineligible to receive state and federal funds,” she wrote.
Hochul said she has spoken to chancellors of the State University of New York and City University of New York public college systems who she said confirmed “that calling for genocide of any group” or tolerating antisemitism violates codes of conduct on their campuses “and would lead to swift disciplinary action.”
The governor’s letter doesn’t address any specific incidents. But she said the letter is in response to comments made on Tuesday by the presidents of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania during a lengthy and contentious congressional hearing on antisemitism.
Much of the blowback centered on a heated line of questioning from U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican, who repeatedly asked whether “calling for the genocide of Jews” would violate each university’s code of conduct.
Harvard President Claudine Gay said it depended on the context, adding that when “speech crosses into conduct, that violates our policies.” She later apologized, saying she failed to properly denounce threats of violence against Jewish students.
Penn President Liz Magill Magill walked back some of her own comments on Wednesday, saying she would consider a call for the genocide of Jewish people to be considered harassment or intimidation. She also said she would launch a review of Penn’s policies.
“This week, like many Americans, I was shocked to see the presidents of several prominent universities -– current leaders that are responsible for educating young minds who will grow into the leaders of tomorrow -– fail to clearly and unequivocally denounce antisemitism and calls for genocide of the Jewish people on their college campuses,” Hochul wrote in her letter.
The Buffalo Democrat has also commissioned an independent review of antisemitism and discrimination policies at CUNY, the nation’s largest urban public university system. That review, by a former chief judge of New York’s highest court, will assess how the college system handles antisemitism complaints and make recommendations on how administrators can better protect Jewish students and faculty.
The New York Civil Liberties Union said Saturday that it is critical that school administrators “do not conflate” students criticizing the state of Israel and advocating for Palestinian rights with calls for violence.
“As political speech critiquing a government’s actions, it’s considered core political expression and is thus protected,” Donna Lieberman, the advocacy group’s executive director, wrote in an emailed statement. “Schools have a duty to protect both students’ well-being and their free expression.”
Hochul’s office didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
A popular chant at pro-Palestinian rallies at Penn and other universities has been falsely misrepresented in recent months as claiming to call for “Jewish genocide.”
Experts and advocates say the chant, “Israel, we charge you with genocide,” is a typical refrain heard at pro-Palestinian rallies. Jewish and Palestinian supporters both acknowledge protesters aren’t saying “We want Jewish genocide.”
Philip Marcelo, The Associated Press
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