House GOP plays politics with campus antisemitism while enabling Islamophobia

By Edward Ahmed Mitchell and Robert McCaw / Common Dreams

The spirit of Joseph McCarthy is alive and well in the halls of Congress. For proof, look no further than the Republican-controlled House education committee’s latest hearing focused on investigating allegations of antisemitism at American colleges and universities.

During last week’s widely covered hearing, many committee members followed a predictable playbook: mischaracterize any pro-Palestinian student activism as antisemitic, ask incendiary “gotcha” questions about imaginary incidents of antisemitism, and then pressure college leaders to silence young people who advocate for Palestinian human rights.

House committee members like Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) have mastered this artform, which gives them an opportunity to go viral in right-wing media, smear pro-Palestinian students, and virtue signal that they oppose any form of bigotry even as their political party enables nearly every form of bigotry.

Until House committee members stop playing Joseph McCarthy and start taking the threat of anti-Palestinian racism and Islamophobia seriously, no one should take their dishonest, theatrical, politically motivated hearings seriously.

Months ago, the civil rights and advocacy organization we serve—the Council on American-Islamic Relations—sent a letter to House committee members encouraging them to hold comprehensive hearings focused on not just antisemitism on college campuses, but also incidents of anti-Muslim bigotry and anti-Palestinian racism.

Since then, the House committee has not made any efforts to investigate the targeting of Muslim and Palestinian students despite the fact that it keeps happening with sometimes violent consequences.

At Columbia University, pro-Israel individuals allegedly doused pro-Palestinian students with military-grade “skunk spray,” the chemical weapon that the Israeli government infamously uses on Palestinian protesters and worshippers.

At Stanford University, a pro-Palestinian student was hospitalized after being intentionally rammed by a car while protesting.

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a pro-Israel student ripped down posters held by pro-Palestinian students who were staging a sit-in and physically rammed his way through them.

In Burlington, Vermont, a man opened fire on three Palestinian college students walking around in public wearing the keffiyeh, paralyzing one of them and seriously injuring the other two.

In Austin, Texas, a group of young Muslims who had just attended a protest near the University of Texas were attacked by a ranting racist who attempted to rip their keffiyeh off their vehicle and yanked one of the men and out of the car, stabbing him.

And those are just incidents of violence.

Students who advocate for Palestinians have also faced discriminatory, institutional efforts to silence their voices. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis attempted to shut down Students for Justice in Palestine chapters, only to backtrack when CAIR and our partners filed a federal lawsuit. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order directing schools and universities to investigate and punish students who engage in pro-Palestinian activism.

Meanwhile, numerous schools have smeared and silenced their own students without any prompting from government officials.

Most recently, the University of Southern California claimed that it had to cancel the commencement speech of its Class of 2024 valedictorian, a Muslim biomedical engineer named Asna Tabassum, due to harassment and threats of disruption from pro-Israel voices.

Don’t expect any congressional hearings about those incidents from the House education committee, which appears to live in an alternate reality in which anti-Palestinian racism and Islamohphobia do not exist.

The House committee’s obsession with investigating only antisemitism is especially problematic because of the difference in power dynamics at play.

Many reported antisemitic incidents on college campuses involve students peacefully expressing views that other students find offensive, while many incidents of anti-Palestinian racism and Islamophobia on college campuses involve either outright violence or school leaders, prominent advocacy organizations, and government officials wielding institutional power to smear, doxx, and silence students.

It is also important to note that pro-Israel advocacy organizations like the Anti-Defamation League have allegedly exaggerated the number of antisemitic incidents on college campuses.

For example, the ADL’s latest data labels as antisemitic any protest at which a member of the crowd chants “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”—regardless of whether the person chanting it was one person among thousands, regardless of whether the protest was Jewish-led, and regardless of the fact that activists who chant the phrase have repeatedly explained that they are calling for citizens of Israel and Palestine to live together in a single state with equal rights (whereas the Israeli government and its supporters are calling for a permanent state of Palestinian subjugation when they demand “full Israeli security control” from the river to the sea).

To be clear, bigotry is not a competition, real antisemitic incidents on college campuses have undoubtedly risen over the past six months, and any manifestations of antisemitism should be condemned. But so, too, should incidents of anti-Palestinian racism and Islamophobia.

Here’s the truth about why that isn’t happening.

Polls show that Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 tend to sympathize with the plight of the Palestinian people far more than older Americans. Instead of addressing or even debating the concerns expressed by those students, many pro-Israel legislators, school leaders, and advocacy organizations prefer to silence those students by simply labeling them antisemitic.

This must end, beginning in Congress.

Until House committee members stop playing Joseph McCarthy and start taking the threat of anti-Palestinian racism and Islamophobia seriously, no one should take their dishonest, theatrical, politically motivated hearings seriously.

Edward Ahmed Mitchell is a civil rights attorney who serves as the national deputy executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States. Robert McCaw is government affairs director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization.
Taken from Common Dreams.