Republican Lawmakers Call on Colleges, Department of Education to Address Antisemitism

The Israel-Hamas war led to an increase in antisemitic actions targeting Jewish students, 16 senators said.
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Matthew Arrojas is a news reporter at BestColleges covering higher education issues and policy. He previously worked as the hospitality and tourism news reporter at the South Florida Business Journal. He also covered higher education policy issues as...
Published on October 30, 2023
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  • The latest Israel-Hamas war sparked renewed worry of antisemitism on college campuses.
  • Sixteen senators penned a letter to the Department of Education expressing concern.
  • The lawmakers asked the department to explain what it’s doing to ensure institutions aren’t allowing unlawful discrimination of students.
  • Senators said the department has until Nov. 9 to address concerns and answer their questions.

U.S. senators worry that antisemitism is on the rise across college campuses, and they want to know what the Department of Education (ED) is doing to stop it.

A coalition of 16 senators, all Republicans, penned a letter to the department last Thursday asking what ED plans to do to enforce the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The senators worry that the recent conflict between Israel and the militant group Hamas caused a spike in cases of antisemitism and discrimination against Jewish and Israeli college students.

“Therefore, during a flood of antisemitic attacks on college campuses — above and beyond the already-rising antisemitism facing Jewish students — we are incredibly disappointed in the department’s lack of response, despite legal obligations under [the Civil Rights Act],” the letter states.

The letter states there have been “dozens” of targeted attacks on students since Oct. 7, which is when Hamas militants attacked Israeli civilians. That includes reported cases of vandalism, arson, and professors taking discriminatory actions against students in the classroom, the letter claims.

Senators called on ED to answer the following questions by Nov. 9:

  • How will the department advance its Antisemitism Awareness Campaign in light of recent incidents?
  • What data does ED have about antisemitic complaints filed with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR)?
  • Has OCR begun any compliance reviews of antisemitic harassment complaints?
  • Has OCR begun any investigations based on news reports of antisemitic harassment?

Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who is also the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and Joni Ernst of Iowa spearheaded the letter, according to a HELP Committee statement.

“We are significantly concerned that your department is not ensuring American universities are fostering a safe learning environment for all students after the terrorist organization Hamas’ violent attack on civilians, including Americans and Israeli citizens,” wrote the senators.

The Israel-Hamas war resulted in discourse, protest, and unrest across U.S. college campuses, some of which has raised questions about freedom of speech. This comes as student organizations, faculty, and universities have issued statements supporting or condemning each side of the conflict.

Debate over the Israel-Hamas war has also caused some influential university donors to pull their support. Many of these donors said their withdrawals are due to what they perceive as inadequate condemnation from university officials of the Hamas attacks and anti-Israel student statements.