Antisemitism latest flashpoint in fight over college diversity offices

A House hearing Tuesday put a spotlight on how diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) offices on college campuses are dealing with rising antisemitism after the Hamas attack on Israel spurred the war now raging in the Gaza Strip.

During the hearing, titled “Confronting the Scourge of Antisemitism on Campus,” Republicans argued DEI offices have failed to support Jewish students.

Sahar Tartak, a Jewish student at Yale University, detailed in her testimony how she has not had “time to mourn” the murder of some 1,200 people in Israel during the Oct. 7 terrorist attack, due to the hostile environment on her own campus.

“Diversity, equity and inclusion offices and organizations alike have done nothing for me and my friends and the horrifying experiences” on their campus, said Tartak, who says she sits in her dining hall asking herself, “How many people in this room want me dead?”

The Democratic witness, Stacy Burdett, an independent consultant on antisemitism prevention and response, said “diversity, equity and inclusion work, maybe, wasn’t set up to anticipate a group of mostly white people scared of hate crimes” but said “it can be enhanced, and the people that I work with have adapted and are protecting Jews now.”

Some Republicans said these offices have only compounded the pain being felt by Jewish students.

“One of the ways I think colleges and universities have promoted antisemitic speech and behavior is through their DEI offices,” said Rep. Nathaniel Moran (R-Texas).

DEI offices have long been targeted by Republicans as a waste of federal funding, and some lawmakers once again threatened to cut funding from schools Tuesday.

The hearing comes as colleges across the country have faced fierce criticism from students, alumni and donors over rising acts of antisemitism and pro-Palestinian protests on campus.

“Can you provide any direction on whether federal funds can be removed from universities that continue to be these hotbeds of antisemitism or even taking it another step to remove accreditation from universities that fail to adequately address antisemitism on their campus?” Rep. Brandon Williams (R-N.Y.) asked one of the witnesses.

Democrats went on the attack against Republicans for looking to cut funding from the Department of Education and Office for Civil Rights, which deals with discrimination complaints.

Ranking member Bobby Scott (D-Va.) got into a back-and-forth with witness Kenneth Marcus, founder and chairman of the Brandeis Center, on the importance of fully funding these offices.

Marcus argued that “antisemitism cases are such a tiny percentage” of cases brought to the Department of Education that funding levels wouldn’t make a difference. He said the federal response was a question of “political will and management.”

Scott said a cut in funding would absolutely cause a backlog for the department and slow down its response.

“That would require you, however, to ignore the thousands of cases that are pending for other kinds of discrimination under Title IV, is that right?” Scott responded, adding, “if you cut the budget, you’re not going to be able to address them as well. That’s that’s just simple arithmetic.”

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