PBS: Genocidal Chant Just Call for Palestinians to ‘Live Freely Alongside Israelis’?

News & Politics

Monday’s edition of the PBS NewsHour featured disturbing equivocation about the Hamas slogan “from the river to the sea,” a reference to the eradication of Israel.

Host Geoff Bennett sounded reasonably tough on Harvard University president Claudine Gay, now under fire for her callous equivocation during recent congressional testimony on anti-Semitism on “elite” college campuses.

Bennett: The president of Harvard University is still in her job at this hour, but there’s been a real debate about whether she should be allowed to stay. There are dueling letters from Harvard’s broader community, one calling on the university’s governing board to force her out, and one asking the university to support her….

Reporter Laura Barron-Lopez played the “whatabout” game with the Republican questioner.

Barron-Lopez: At Harvard University, turmoil over the fate of the schools president, Claudine Gay. Gay, MIT president Sally Kornbluth, and now outgoing University of Pennsylvania president Liz Magill came under fire last week for their testimony in a House hearing on rising antisemitism on their campuses. On Friday, Gay apologized for her remarks to The Harvard Crimson, saying: “Calls for violence or genocide against the Jewish community or any religious or ethnic group, are vile, they have no place at Harvard, and those who threaten our Jewish students will be held to account.” The flash point of last Tuesday’s hearing, a heated line of questioning from Republican representative Elise Stefanik, who herself has been criticized for not calling out anti-Semitism in her own party.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY): And, Dr. Gay, at Harvard, does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Harvard’s rules of bullying and harassment, yes or no?

Claudine Gay (President, Harvard University): It can be, depending on the context.

That’s when Barron-Lopez made her own offensive statement. Both Jews and Hamas-adjacent anti-Semites know what is meant when pro-Palestinian mobs shout “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” but Barron-Lopez suggested everyone was wrong:

Barron-Lopez: Stefanik was referring to slogans that have been chanted at pro-Palestinian rallies on campus, such as “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” That phrase, adopted by Hamas, is seen by some as a call for the destruction of Israel and the killing of Jewish people. Others say it’s a decades-old rallying call for a state where all Palestinians can live freely alongside Israelis.

….

Barron-Lopez: Before Magill’s resignation, more than 70 members of Congress, all but three of whom were Republican, signed a letter demanding the three presidents step aside. They said the testimony lacked moral clarity and illuminated the problematic double standards and dehumanization of Jewish communities. Meanwhile, some progressive members, including the only Palestinian-American in Congress, Rashida Tlaib, say allegations of antisemitism are being weaponized to silence legitimate criticisms of Israel.

Tlaib (D-MI): Americans have a right to speak up, Americans have a right to the institutions they work at or the people that represent them to say, look, this is my opinion, I believe you should support X, Y, and Z.

Tlaib was censured by her fellow House members for, among other anti-Israel lies, claiming that “from the river to the sea” isn’t a Hamas slogan about the eradication of Israel, but an “aspirational call for freedom” and “peaceful coexistence.” 

Yet the NewsHour has relegated coverage of “progressive” Tlaib’s censure to a single headline roundup November 8, in which host Amna Nawaz benignly referred to it as “her criticism of Israel.”

This segment casting doubt on the plain import of Hamas’s genocidal anti-Jewish chant was brought to you in part by BDO.

A transcript is available, click “Expand.”

PBS NewsHour

11/11/23

7:16:50 p.m. (ET)

Geoff Bennett: The president of Harvard University is still in her job at this hour, but there’s been real debate about whether she should be allowed to stay. There are dueling letters from Harvard’s broader community, one calling on the university’s governing board to force her out, and one asking the university to support her. One of those governing boards has reportedly been meeting about that today. It comes in response to last week’s congressional hearing about a rise in antisemitism on some college campuses. Laura Barron-Lopez has the latest.

Laura Barron-Lopez: At Harvard University, turmoil over the fate of the schools president, Claudine Gay. Gay, MIT president Sally Kornbluth, and now outgoing University of Pennsylvania president Liz Magill came under fire last week for their testimony in a House hearing on rising antisemitism on their campuses. On Friday, Gay apologized for her remarks to The Harvard Crimson, saying: “Calls for violence or genocide against the Jewish community or any religious or ethnic group are vile, they have no place at Harvard, and those who threaten our Jewish students will be held to account.” The flash point of last Tuesday’s hearing, a heated line of questioning from Republican representative Elise Stefanik, who herself has been criticized for not calling out antisemitism in her own party.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY): And, Dr. Gay, at Harvard, does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Harvard’s rules of bullying and harassment, yes or no?

Claudine Gay (President, Harvard University): It can be, depending on the context.

Laura Barron-Lopez: Stefanik was referring to slogans that have been chanted at pro-Palestinian rallies on campus, such as “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” That phrase, adopted by Hamas, is seen by some as a call for the destruction Israel and the killing of Jewish people. Others say it’s a decades-old rallying call for a state where all Palestinians can live freely alongside Israelis.

Rep. Elise Stefanik: I will ask you one more time, does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Harvard’s rules of bullying and harassment, yes or no? And is it antisemitic rhetoric?

Claudine Gay: Antisemitic rhetoric, when it crosses into conduct That amounts to bullying, harassment, intimidation, that is actionable conduct and we do take action.

Rep. Elise Stefanik: So the answer is yes, that calling for the genocide of Jews violates Harvard code of conduct, correct?

Claudine Gay: Again, it depends on the context.

Laura Barron-Lopez: The day after the hearing, Rabbi David Wolpe stepped down from the university’s antisemitism advisory committee.

Rabbi David Wolpe, Harvard Divinity School: I felt as though there was a profound disconnect between the attitude of the president’s and my perception of the seriousness of the situation.

Laura Barron-Lopez: Wolpe, a visiting scholar at Harvard’s Divinity School, resigned over what he considers inaction by the university to confront antisemitism.

Rabbi David Wolpe: Some of the things that it seemed to me Harvard needed to do almost immediately were to enforce the existing rules against harassment and bullying and so on more expeditiously, that is, more immediately that they were doing it, to undertake a major education campaign about Judaism, antisemitism, Jewish history.

Laura Barron-Lopez: Even as pressure mounts for Gay’s resignation, more than 600 faculty signed a letter saying Harvard should not cave to political pressure. Steven Pinker, a professor of psychology, didn’t sign the letter, but said gays firing would not solve the problem.

Steven Pinker, Harvard University: The reason that I don’t think she should be called on to resign is that I think the problems run much deeper, and they should be addressed directly, rather than through a sacrificial scapegoat. I think that Harvard and American universities in general need a clear and conspicuous policy on free speech, so they don’t selectively squelch speech. Reprehensible speech should be answered by more speech, by being refuted, not by being criminalized.

Laura Barron-Lopez: At University of Pennsylvania, the consequences were swift. On Saturday, university president Liz Magill announced her resignation after donors, politicians, and some students called for her ouster. Days before, she issued a public apology.

Liz Magill, Former President, University Of Pennsylvania: I want to be clear, a call for genocide of Jewish people is threatening, deeply so. In my view, it would be harassment or intimidation.

Laura Barron-Lopez: Magill’s testimony last week was similar to Gay’s. Claire Finkelstein is a professor of law and philosophy at UPenn. He said, while Magill is a brilliant person, her testimony was disastrous.

Claire Finkelstein, University of Pennsylvania Law School: I’m not calling for a restriction of criticisms of Israel or criticisms of Hamas or what have you, political speech and the ability to engage in it. But what has gotten out of hand is the idea that free speech on campus has to include such a level of openness to any kind of speech that even the worst threats and harassment should be protected.

Laura Barron-Lopez: Before Magill’s resignation, more than 70 members of Congress, all but three of whom were Republican, signed a letter demanding the three presidents step aside. They said the testimony lacked moral clarity and illuminated the problematic double standards and dehumanization of Jewish communities. Meanwhile, some progressive members, including the only Palestinian-American in Congress, Rashida Tlaib, say allegations of antisemitism are being weaponized to silence legitimate criticisms of Israel.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI): Americans have a right to speak up, Americans have a right to the institutions they work at or the people that represent them to say, look, this is my opinion, I believe you should support X, Y, and Z.

Laura Barron-Lopez: House Republicans have opened an investigation into the three universities and more than a dozen Democratic lawmakers asked schools to review and update their policies. And, at MIT, president Sally Kornbluth has not apologized, receiving support from her university’s governing board. For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Laura Barron-Lopez.

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