Penn’s president defends herself amid backlash following congressional testimony about antisemitism

Amid the growing controversy, there are more calls for her to resign or to be fired, and to reevaluate the Ivy League school's policies.

Liz Magill

University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill reads her opening statement during a hearing of the House Committee on Education on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023 in Washington. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

This story originally appeared on 6abc.

The University of Pennsylvania is under fire after President Liz Magill’s comments at the congressional hearing on antisemitism earlier this week. Amid the growing controversy, there are more calls for her to resign or to be fired, and to reevaluate the Ivy League school’s policies.

Now, Magill is now defending herself in a new videotaped response.

This also comes after Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro has called her responses “shameful.”

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Magill is among three presidents from the most elite universities in the country who are facing calls to resign after tense moments on Capitol Hill Tuesday in which lawmakers accused them of not doing enough to crack down on antisemitism and hate on campus.

“I am asking specifically — calling for the genocide of Jews, does that constitute bullying or harassment?” Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, (R) New York, asked Magill.

“If it is directed and severe pervasive, it is harassment,” Magill said.

“So, the answer is yes?” Rep. Stefanik asked.

“It is a context-dependent decision,” Magill responded.

“It is a context-dependent decision? That’s your testimony today? Calling for the genocide of Jews is depending upon the context?” Rep. Stefanik said.

Video posted to social media of a protest on campus Sunday is what spurred a lot of the heated questions by the congressional committee during Magill’s testimony.

Hundreds of protesters can be seen chanting “Intifada revolution,” calling for a Palestinian uprising against Israel and the Jewish people there.

The backlash was swift among alumni, students, and donors demanding action.

Gov. Shapiro weighed in saying Magill failed to be clear about whether calling for genocide against a particular group of people is considered harassment. He called Magill’s remarks during the hearing “unacceptable” and “shameful,” urging the board of trustees to convene.

Shapiro says there is no middle ground.

“It’s all wrong and it needs to be called out, and it shouldn’t be hard and there should be no nuance to that. She needed to give a one-word answer,” Gov. Shapiro said.

Magill is now saying Penn’s policies on those actions will be clarified and reevaluated.

In response, Magill posted a video Wednesday night.

“I was not focused on — but I should have been — the irrefutable fact that a call for genocide of Jewish people is a call for terrible violence human beings can perpetrate,” Magill said in part in her video.

Rep. Stefanik posted a statement calling Magill’s video response a, “Pathetic PR clean-up attempt by Penn.”

Rep. Stefanik also grilled Harvard’s president, Dr. Claudine Gay.

“Do you believe that type of hateful speech is contrary to Harvard’s code of conduct or is it allowed at Harvard?” Rep. Stefanik asked.

“It is at odds with the values of Harvard but our values are also…,” Dr. Gay tried to respond.

“Can you not say here that it’s against the code of conduct?” Rep. Stefanik interrupted.

“We embrace a commitment to free expression even of views that are objectionable, offensive and hateful. It’s when that speech crosses into conduct that violates our policies against harassment and bullying,” Dr. Gay rebutted.

“Does that speech not cross that barrier? Does that speech not call for the elimination of Jews and the elimination of Israel?” Rep. Stefanik asked.

Dr. Gay has since released a statement, saying, “There are some who have confused a right to free expression with the idea that Harvard will condone calls for violence against Jewish students. Those who threaten our Jewish students will be held to account.”

This controversy is far from over. The U.S. Department of Education is already investigating seven schools, including Harvard, MIT and Penn for complaints over antisemitism and Islamophobic discrimination on campus.

Two Penn students have also filed a civil rights lawsuit against the university for what they call antisemitic hatred, discrimination, harassment and intimidation. Action News has not received a response from Penn regarding the lawsuit.

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