Jewish college students testify on Capitol Hill about rampant antisemitism on campus

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing Thursday with nine Jewish students from colleges and universities across the country who spoke about their experiences with antisemitism. 

Committee Chairwoman Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) has spearheaded efforts to investigate universities for failing to address documented student complaints of antisemitism on campus. 

The students asked to participate in the hearing were Shabbos Kestenbaum, Harvard University; Noah Rubin, University of Pennsylvania; Talia Khan, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Eden Yadegar, Columbia University; Hannah Beth Schlacter, University of California, Berkeley; Joe J. Gindi, Rutgers University; Kevin Feigelis, Stanford University; Yasmeen Ohebsion, Tulane University and Jacob Khalili, Cooper Union. 

Also in attendance were leaders of Jewish organizations including Hillel International, Jewish Federations of North America, The NFL union, the Brandeis Center, The Tikvah Fund, and the Endowment for the Middle East. 

The schools represented at Thursday’s hearing made international headlines for threats against Jewish students in the wake of the attacks on October 7. Harvard and Columbia are included in the Committee’s investigations. 

Protesters calling for a cease fire in Gaza and an end to the Israel-Hamas conflict occupy the rotunda of the Cannon House office building with a civil disobedience action on Capitol Hill in Washington, US, October 18, 2023. (credit: JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS)

All nine of the students spoke about feeling unsafe and unheard on their campuses. They criticized their university’s administrators for failing to take meaningful if any, action to their documented complaints. They spoke of their universities holding double standards for enforcing policies. Their universities are not calling out hate. 

“Harvard University purports to be training the next generation of American leaders of policymakers. I can assure you if the people in my classroom are America’s future policymakers, we are in deep, deep trouble,” Kestenbaum said. “Jewish students are fearing for their lives. They’re not comfortable expressing how they truly feel.”

Title VI lawsuit

Kestenbaum is one of the plaintiffs in a Title VI lawsuit against Harvard. Kestenbaum is a second-year graduate student at the Harvard Divinity School studying religion and politics and is also the president and founder of the school’s Jewish Student Association.

At Columbia, Yadegar said Zionist has become a sanitized code word for Jews. Yadeger said there have been two instances of physical assault against Jews on campus; one Jewish student was assaulted at a protest and another was assaulted in the library while hanging up posters of the hostages. 

Foxx concluded the hearing by saying Congress will do everything it can to make sure students are safe on campus.