University president quits over backlash to 'genocide of Jews' testimony

By John Mercury December 10, 2023

The president of a US university has resigned after she was unable to say under repeated questioning that calls on campus for the genocide of Jews would violate the school’s conduct policy.

University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill faced intense criticism from the White House, politicians and alumni for appearing to dodge a question at a congressional hearing on campus antisemitism.

Universities across the country have been accused of failing to protect Jewish students amid rising fears of antisemitism worldwide and fallout from Israel’s intensifying war in Gaza.

Ms Magill appeared with the presidents of Harvard University and MIT at the congressional hearing this week.

FILE - University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill listens during a hearing of the House Committee on Education on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023, in Washington. Magill has resigned amid pressure from donors and criticism over testimony at a congressional hearing where she was unable to say under repeated questioning that calls on campus for the genocide of Jews would violate the school...s conduct policy. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)
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Liz Magill appeared before the US House Committee on Education earlier this week. Pic: AP

In their testimonies, the three university leaders each condemned antisemitism.

The outcry centred on a contentious exchange with Republican Elise Stefanik, who asked whether “calling for the genocide of Jews” would violate each school’s code of conduct.

Instead of replying directly to Ms Stefanik’s yes-or-no question, Ms Magill said that the decision would be “context-dependent”.

“If the speech turns into conduct, it can be harassment,” she said.

An outraged Congresswoman Stefanik replied: “Conduct meaning committing the act of genocide!?”

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Scott Bok, the chair of the Penn Board of Trustees who has also announced he is stepping down, said Ms Magill “made a very unfortunate misstep” in her testimony but praised her leadership skills and insisted she was “not the slightest bit antisemitic”.

He went on to say Ms Magill had been “worn down by months of relentless external attacks” and “provided a legalistic answer to a moral question,” making for a “dreadful 30-second sound bite”.

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