Tlaib slams U.S. House committee hearing on antisemitism and campus encampments

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib leads a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol, May 23, 2024 | Rep. Tlaib photo

While the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee questioned university leaders who have had encampments on campus, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) spoke outside the U.S Capitol with other Democrats and union leaders.

The House committee meeting titled, “Calling For Accountability: Stopping Anti Semitic College Chaos,” grilled leaders from Northwestern University, Rutgers University and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) on their response to pro-Palestinian demonstrations on their campuses and the safety of Jewish students.

Tlaib, joined by fellow Democratic lawmakers and university union leaders, called the meeting disingenuous and a front to limit free speech by villainizing students across the country that are utilizing civil disobedience to call for divestment from Israel from their schools.

“Our country has a long history of students leading nonviolent civil disobedience and demanding change in our country,” said Tlaib, who is Palestinian American and a strong critic of Israel. “Students have been on the right side of history time and time again. It is utterly disgraceful that university administrators and government officials are sending militarized police forces to stop students from exercising their First Amendment right.” 

Tlaib pointed to a college in her own state, the University of Michigan, where campus police officers cleared out a pro-Palestine encampment on Tuesday, spraying irritants at protesters, and arresting four individuals who were later released.

“This week at the University of Michigan, police violently destroyed the peaceful, most beautiful encampment, interfaith students encampment. They sprayed them with chemicals; brutalized them. Many were hospitalized for exercising their First Amendment right and saying ‘We are tired of supporting war,” Tlaib said. “I call on these college administrators to exercise restraint. Respect the civil liberties of their students, their constitutional rights and the repressive violent tactics and denounce the ongoing brutality of these students.”

On Tuesday, Tlaib called on U of M President Santa Ono to resign.

Over in the House committee, Chair Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) set the tone for the meeting with the leaders of Northwestern University, Rutgers University and UCLA, condemning their actions towards encampments on-campus.

“Each of you should be ashamed of your decisions that allowed antisemitic encampments to endanger Jewish students,” Foxx said, opening with a line from Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” which reads “gradually, then suddenly” as an explanation of what led to Thursday’s hearing.

“Over the course of years, decades even, universities gradually nurtured a campus culture of radicalism, in which antisemitism grew and became tolerated by administrators,” Foxx said. “The committee’s been steadfast in its dedication to attacking the roots of antisemitic Semitic hatred, including anti Israel DEI [Diversity, Equity and Inclusion] bureaucracies and questionable foreign funding. Then suddenly, over the course of weeks, days even, universities burst into antisemitic chaos.”

Officials at Northwestern and Rutgers came to an agreement with those in the encampments, negotiating future communication with and representation of Palestinian students at the school, a controversial decision.

Hundreds were arrested when police at UCLA dismantled a campus encampment at the beginning of the month, with a new encampment being erected as the committee meeting was underway.

This is the third hearing the committee has held to drill university leaders on antisemitism on their campuses amidst pro-Palestinian protests. After the first hearing, University of Pennsylvania President Elizabeth Magill faced widespread backlash for her testimony and resigned from the role within a week.

Leaders from the University of Michigan have also been considered for a hearing.

While some Democratic lawmakers are calling the committee’s meeting Thursday an excuse for Republican’s to grandstand against liberal education, Foxx said she wants to be clear that the purpose of the meeting is to end antisemitic violence and harassment on campuses.

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who is on the committee, joined Tlaib outside and said it is not antisemitic to critique the policies and military actions of the government. By misidentifying the protests as bigotry, the opportunity to combat real hate is lost, Omar said.

“It is also not antisemitic to voice support for Palestinian people who have faced decades of oppression, displacement and the violation of their human rights under the Israeli occupation, apartheid and the genocide that’s currently being carried out,” Omar said. “Yet campus protests expressing these views have been inaccurately portrayed by university administrators and even some of my colleagues in Congress as causing chaos and spreading hatred.” 

It’s important for students to stick together and for schools to support freedom of expression,  U.S. Rep Cori Bush (D-Mo.) as “these movements are how justice is won.”

“I know that the foundational message of every union is to stand with people to fight for their dignity and to advocate for those most marginalized. That’s what we’re standing for today,” Bush said. “Behind every attempt to silence the protesters is an idea that those in power don’t want people to hear.”

But people need to hear it, U.S. Rep Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) said, adding that Democrats need to be better at talking about Palestine. 

“We have to be really honest about how racist this MAGA Republican Party is. Antisemitism is just a new entry point of their feigned rage to use towards us towards destroying liberal education in America,” Bowman said.

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