Skip to content

Special report: Holloway testifies to US Congress in 3rd historic campus antisemitism hearing

University President Jonathan Holloway and University of California, Los Angeles Chancellor Gene Block were among two of three university executives called to testify to U.S. Congress on Thursday after being accused of allowing antisemitism on their campuses. – Photo by Alex Kenney

All seats were filled in the Rayburn House Office Building's Room 2175 Thursday morning as university executives anticipated questions from the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce in a hearing on antisemitism and pro-Palestinian encampments. The hearing saw witness testimonies from University President Jonathan Holloway, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Chancellor Gene Block, Northwestern University President Michael Schill and Phi Beta Kappa Society Chief Executive Officer and former Brandeis University President Frederick Lawrence.

At Rutgers, this comes one day after more than 150 students and recent graduates signed a letter calling for University administration to more strongly enforce its policy and encourage understanding of Jewish students' perspectives. Rutgers Jewish Faculty, Administration and Staff (JFAS) also wrote to administrators with a similar message that garnered more than 200 signatures and alleged inconsistent responses to antisemitic incident reports.

At Rutgers—Newark, the pro-Palestinian encampment remains, and a post from the Rutgers Endowment Justice Collective called for additional support via Instagram on Wednesday after allegedly being instructed by administration to remove the encampment. The group also held a rally and press conference on Thursday to "put President Holloway and Rutgers University on trial for supporting genocide," according to an announcement on Instagram by the Newark Solidarity Coalition.

Hours before the event, Holloway sat before a court of U.S. congresspeople who charged that he, Schill and Block put Jewish students at risk and enabled antisemitism to thrive on campus in a hearing that was more than three hours long.

In her opening remarks, Chair Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) condemned Holloway and Schill for permitting antisemitism on campus, as well as negotiating with protesters. Her condemnation included agreeing to provide employment and educational assistance to potential faculty and students from Palestine, which Foxx alleged breaks federal code around discrimination.

After hearing the testimonies of each witness, the rest of the hearing was structured into five-minute spurts of questions and answers between a congressperson and the witness or witnesses of their choice.

Foxx first asked Holloway, Block and Schill to provide numbers for student disciplinary measures related to antisemitism since Oct. 7, 2023, such as suspensions and expulsions. Holloway replied that Rutgers is conducting investigations but has currently suspended four students, with 19 cases of unspecified disciplinary activities.

She then gave a similar question regarding disciplinary action toward faculty and staff in relation to antisemitism or the encampments, such as termination, since April 17. Schill, whose campus had seen no suspensions or expulsions, clarified that this fact does not equate to a lack of discipline and added that there had been faculty terminations. Holloway answered that there have been no firings, but disciplinary processes are underway.

Rep. Donald Norcross (D-1), who co-signed a letter with Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5) condemning Holloway's response to the encampment, fired questions at Holloway multiple times throughout the proceeding.

When asked about University communication with protesters, Holloway said student affairs officers and the Rutgers University Police Department had been in communication with organizers from the encampment's inception. Yet he only had prior knowledge of the initial approved protest in the designated free speech area, not of the group's plans to form an encampment at nearby Voorhees Mall on the College Avenue campus.

Approximately 30 minutes later, Norcross questioned Holloway about the now-deleted Instagram post by the Students for Justice in Palestine at Rutgers—New Brunswick (SJP) that said, "F*ck Finals, Free Falasteen," and called for an emergency protest at 7 a.m. on the first day of spring exams, as previously reported by The Daily Targum.

Holloway said that leading up to it, University administrators, including Rutgers—New Brunswick Chancellor Francine Conway, were in communication with organizers who agreed to pursue quiet, nondisruptive activities in light of finals week, but the post violated these terms. His discovery of the post provoked the order to close the encampment.

Norcross then pressed him on the delay in removing the encampment, which Holloway said was in accordance with guidance from the Attorney General of New Jersey. Time was allocated to assemble police forces and give protesters notice that the encampment was recognized as trespassing to provide time to disassemble, according to Holloway.

Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) brought forth an unspecified post from social media platform X by the Center for Security, Race and Rights (CSRR) that described the Israeli government as genocidal. Good asked Holloway if he agreed with the statement.

"Sir, I don't have an opinion on Israel in terms of that phrase," Holloway said. "I think Israel has a right to exist and to protect itself."

Good asked essentially the same question three more times, with Holloway reaffirming his lack of stance on it each time.

One hour later, Rep. Eric Burlison (R-Mo.) again asked all the university executives whether the state of Israel is genocidal.

Schill, Holloway and Block said Israel is not a genocidal state.

Good then asked Holloway about CSRR Director Sahar Aziz, a distinguished professor of law at Rutgers Law School—Newark, and her alleged signature on a petition that claimed that Jewish people are in a more privileged position than Muslim people and referred to Israel and the U.S. as "racist settler-colonial states."

Holloway said he has no plans to close the CSRR, despite his own feelings about the perspectives it hosts.

Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-Pa.) asked Holloway about a point he conceded in the encampment agreement that would solidify the University's relationship with Birzeit University in the West Bank.

Smucker alleged that buildings at Birzeit are named after convicted terrorists, cited exclusively in a lawsuit against Harvard University, which does not provide specific building names. He also mentioned that, after a student vote, Hamas-affiliated candidates represented a plurality of Birzeit's student government.

Additionally, Smucker cited reports by Haaretz and The Times of Israel that focused on Birzeit barring a Jewish Israeli journalist from entering the campus in 2014 and the arrests in September 2023 of eight Birzeit students who were suspected to be preparing for a terrorist attack associated with Hamas.

"Is this really an institution Rutgers should be partnering with?" Smucker asked.

Holloway responded that the University collaborates with a variety of international universities.

Smucker then proceeded to question the recent agreements made with pro-Palestinian protesters, in which he alleged that Holloway "gave in to the demands of the mob on (Rutgers') campus" while not collaborating with JFAS in similar haste.

Holloway corrected Smucker's use of the term "mob" and said he was speaking with students. Regarding the difference in response time, he explained that the response to the encampment came during a state of emergency but that he could have responded to JFAS sooner and was committed to improving.

Returning to a point Foxx made in her opening statement, Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) asked Holloway whether his agreement to host 10 displaced students from Gaza violates federal discrimination legislation.

Holloway replied that Rutgers already has built-in programs to support refugee students.

"First of all, on this whole Gaza situation, the Palestinians could not have taken a more outlandish position," Grothman said. "But secondly, it appears as in response for the trouble they're causing and the hate that they're encouraging, their little ethnic group here is rewarded with 10 spaces. I'm sure there are all sorts of other foreigners around the world who would be happy to grab those 10 spaces."

Grothman elaborated that Rutgers could select students from New Jersey or "many legitimate countries" in the Palestinian students' place.

Holloway began to respond, but Grothman cut his answer short to ask other questions, citing the time limit.

When Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.) asked the university executives whether they have addressed the protests to students, in the context of the upcoming summer, Holloway said he is in frequent communication with Jewish members of the University community and disclosed an upcoming training program in collaboration with the Anti-Defamation League.

Upon the conclusion of its third hearing inspecting antisemitism in higher education, the Committee also indicated an intention to continue its activities in a post on Friday.

"As we enter the 231st day of genocide, the U.S. Congress continues its McCarthyist project, establishing a manufactured attack on higher education to distract from their own genocidal actions," a joint statement on Instagram by the Rutgers, Northwestern, UCLA and national chapters of SJP read.

A statement on Instagram by Rutgers Hillel extended appreciation to Holloway for making amends with the community and offered to assist University administrators in taking action to ameliorate and prevent harm.

Rebecca Givan, the general vice president of the Rutgers chapter of the American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT) and an associate professor in the Department of Labor Studies and Employment Relations, attended the hearing in person alongside other members of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT and similar organizations from Northwestern and UCLA, who held a press conference outside of the hearing as it entered its last hour.

She commended Holloway for his choice not to speak negatively about Aziz and his rejection of the term "mob" to refer to Rutgers students. She acknowledged that he performed well given the high-stress situation, even if his personal viewpoints may be out of alignment for some. She anticipated further encroachments on academic freedom and urged for community organizing to protect educational institutions.

"It is essential that you do not sacrifice the principles of academic freedom and free speech that are core to the educational mission of your respected institutions," Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), the House's only Palestinian American congressperson, said at the union event. "I hope my colleagues understand what is at stake when they have these kinds of hearings right in Congress in the People's House."

Related Articles

Join our newsletterSubscribe