EXCLUSIVE– The head of Israel’s Ben-Gurion University took notice that the presidents of Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania failed to take a staunch position against calls for violence against the Jewish community during their testimonyTuesday on Capitol Hill.
The hearing was a response to the rampant antisemitism on colleges campuses that has plagued America since the Hamas terror attacks on October 7. Among the critics is Ben-Gurion University president Daniel Chamovitz, who said this is a personal issue for him as the leader of a university located just 20 miles from the Gaza Strip and as a graduate of Columbia University.
“On October 7, over 80 people from my university, both workers and students, were murdered,” Chamovitz told Fox News Digital. “I have over 600 homeless because their homes have been destroyed and, even to this day, we still have five members of our community, including two students who are being held hostage in captivity in Gaza. So this is deeply, deeply personal.”
During the hearing, New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik questioned Harvard President Dr. Claudine Gay, asking whether “admissions offers [would] be rescinded or any disciplinary action [would] be taken against students or applicants who say from the river to the sea or intifada, advocating for the murder of Jews?”
Gay responded that “that type of hateful, reckless, offensive speech is personally abhorrent” to her, but would not say that the calls for the genocide of Jews was a breach of the Ivy League university’s code of conduct, adding that “it depends on the context.”
“Antisemitic rhetoric, when it crosses into conduct, it amounts to bullying, harassment, intimidation. That is actionable conduct, and we do take action,” Gay said.
Chamovitz was stunned by Gay’s answer.
“When we first hear this statement, that only if it’s actionable… that means… we’re only going to call him out when you have a concentration camp,” Chamovitz said. “That’s taken to an extreme, but unfortunately, that’s the extreme they took.”
“I would never talk that way until seeing [Tuesday’s] testimony in Congress,” he added. “But if you’re saying I’m only going to call out genocide when it’s actionable, I mean, that is absolutely ridiculous. We have to see how other minorities are treated or protected on campus. You couldn’t imagine any other minority calling for the killing of ‘fill in the blank,’ pick your favorite minority or protected group, and that it wouldn’t be called out on campus.”
When Stefanik pressed further, asking specifically what actions would be taken against “students who are harassing and calling for the genocide of Jews on Harvard’s campus,” Gay deflected.
“When speech crosses into conduct that violates our policies, including policies against bullying, harassment or intimidation, we take action, and we have robust disciplinary processes that allow to hold individuals accountable,” Gay said.
Chamovitz feels “we can debate the limits of freedom of speech,” but Gay is taking things too far.
“I think that what we’re seeing is that some basic approaches to academia, some basic approaches that were taken, especially in the social sciences and humanities, of deconstruction of intersectionality, have been taken to such an extreme that people have lost their moral compass,” he said. “In what way can a professor be chastised for using a wrong pronoun but not chastised for calling for genocide of Jews. It sort of doesn’t make any sense, and so we’re only looking for consistency.”
Chamovitz said it was assumed there might be anti-Israel backlash when the Jewish state began its counteroffensive in Gaza aiming to eliminate Hamas terrorists, but he said it never occurred to him that there would be any thought about not condemning Hamas’ actions as terrorists.
“We took for granted that people would condemn murder, that they would condemn rape, that they could feel for hostages,” he said. “Very quickly, we saw that really wasn’t the case, that on some campuses across North America, Hamas, a nihilistic terrorist organization, which shares no liberal values with anything that America stands for, with anything that’s gone through in higher education, was celebrated as a cause célèbre across some campuses.”
“But these were students… to see the leaders of these universities being reticent to take a strong moral stance was shocking.”
Chamovitz traveled to the U.S. last week to meet with leaders in American academia, where he planned to addess those issues with fellow university presidents, but he told Fox News Digital that in his time as leader of Ben-Gurion University, he has never been so disrespected as he was by his alma mater.
Gay, a student at Columbia 40 years ago, said he was told five minutes before a meeting scheduled last week with one of the university’s vice presidents that it was canceled.
“As president of a university, I have never been disrespected like that in my entire time,” he added. “I’ve never treated another president like that. I mean, it’s only my interpretation, but I think I was an uncomfortable visitor for them.”
Columbia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Chamovitz said the presidents of universities, especially “elite” ones, have an incredible responsibility to properly guide the leaders of tomorrow.
“The most important function I’ve ever had in my career is the influence I’ve had on my students,” he said. “That is the role of academia, is to take young minds, young leaders, to help them develop critical thinking skills so that they can then go and lead our country, our industry, our society in the future. When leaders of academia shirk that role by saying that maybe all ideas are equal, that every opinion has the right to be said, we see that leads to damage.”
Fox News’ Danielle Wallace and Sarah Rumpf-Whitten contributed to this report.