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Wharton and Engineering junior Noah Rubin speaks at the roundtable with the House Education and the Workforce Committee on Feb. 29. Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi

WASHINGTON — A Penn student criticized the University's response to antisemitism during a bipartisan roundtable hosted by the United States House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Wharton and Engineering junior Noah Rubin, who is Jewish, spoke at the Feb. 29 roundtable alongside students from eight other universities — including Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Columbia University. At the roundtable, Republican and Democratic representatives on the Committee probed attendees about the experiences of Jewish students at their respective schools, including Penn. 

The roundtable — which renewed congressional attention on the University — comes nearly three months after the Committee first launched an investigation into Penn. The ongoing investigation was announced two days after former Penn President Liz Magill's testimony at a Dec. 5, 2023 congressional hearing on campus antisemitism, which escalated a series of controversies that led to Magill's resignation on Dec. 9.

Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi Demonstrators hold up their red painted hands during the Congressional roundtable on Feb. 29.

Before students began their remarks, the committee played a video with clips of pro-Palestinian demonstrations at each university with a student in attendance. The segment of the video on Penn’s campus included a clip of a demonstrator chanting, “There is only one solution, intifada revolution” — a phrase that Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) referred to as a call for genocide during her viral exchange with Magill, which has been credited as contributing to Magill's resignation. 

"We acknowledge the views of the students, who bravely shared their experiences during today’s round table discussion," a University spokesperson wrote to DP. "Antisemitism is rising in every part of our society, including on college and university campuses. Penn is making progress to fight antisemitism, to call it out, and to investigate and discipline those responsible."

Rubin told the DP that the roundtable was "super important, because even since the last congressional hearing, we have not had concrete action on our campus to address the rise in antisemitism." He contended that Jewish institutions on campus are not provided with reliable and basic security from the University, calling this issue "the most important thing" mentioned in his remarks.

In a statement, a University spokesperson cited "significantly increased security" on campus beginning last fall, including at 17 centers for religious life, fraternities, and sororities on and off campus. The Division of Public Safety is performing more than 1,000 special safety checks each week, they said.

Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi Representative Elise Stefanik greets Noah Rubin prior to the roundtable on Feb. 29.

"The safety and security of Penn’s campus community is, has been, and will remain our top priority," the spokesperson said.

Student denounces 'lack of moral clarity' in Penn antisemitism response

During his remarks, Rubin — who was the second student to speak at the roundtable — alleged a "lack of moral clarity" in Penn's response to antisemitism.

“It’s been 86 days since former President Magill expressed to the world the indifference that has persisted on Penn’s campus,” Rubin said. “Since then, not only has the Jew hatred continued, but bigoted individuals including our own faculty have become involved in harassment, threats and violence towards Jewish students.”

Rubin, who is a member of the Jewish Students Advisory Board and the co-president of the Penn Israel Public Affairs Committee, described his meetings with administration to address antisemitism on campus as filled with “meaningless orders and empty promises.” He criticized administrators for what he said was a failure to “take the issues seriously” and giving the advisory board only three hours of meeting time this semester. 

The DP was not able to independently verify the advisory board's meeting schedule. 

Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi Representative Virginia Foxx is the Chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

As part of its antisemitism action plan, Penn will hire a new administrator with a skill set to prevent and respond to antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hate. In January, Penn's antisemitism task force chair said that the task force has assembled seven times in person since it was announced on Nov. 16. Members are divided into subgroups that have been working independently on topics related to the task force's central goal of combatting antisemitism.

The incidents at the center of the discussion of Penn

Rubin cited several examples of incidents that he said have made Jewish Penn students feel unsafe, including a September 2023 incident in which an unknown individual vandalized Penn Hillel while screaming antisemitic obscenities. Days earlier, Rubin said he had been told Hillel was “one of the safest buildings on campus.”

He also pointed to the pro-Palestinian march that occurred on Dec. 3, 2023 along Walnut street in Philadelphia, with over 500 protestors in attendance. The Division of Public Safety reported that several Penn buildings were sprayed with pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel graffiti along the march route.

Rubin described the rally as a “mob of students, faculty and extremists, marching and vandalizing school buildings, lightning smoke bombs and chanting vicious chants in both English and Arabic.”

Rubin also referenced last month's controversy surrounding cartoons drawn by Annenberg School for Communication lecturer Dwayne Booth — several of which have been denounced as antisemitic by critics — including one which appears to resemble the antisemitic trope of blood libel. Jameson condemned Booth's art in a University statement.

Rubin echoed criticism of Booth’s work as “blood libel cartoons” – referencing the cartoon titled "The Anti-Semite," which depicts three individuals drinking blood out of glasses labeled "Gaza." He condemned the University for allowing Booth to continue teaching at Penn and link his personal website with the cartoons on it to his faculty biography. 

The most recent incident Rubin described was a protest held by Police Free Penn and Save the UC Townhomes on Feb. 26. Rubin condemned chants of "Intifada revolution," and, "We won’t stop at ceasefire,” as antisemitic — describing an instance where Jewish students who posted about the rally in a private group chat later found their names and phone numbers publicly available online.

"This is the story of Jews on Penn’s campus and students across the country,” Rubin said. 

A group of at least six protestors sat in the back row of audience seats, wearing pink shirts that read, “Say no to Genocide in Gaza.” Throughout the opening remarks and student testimonies, they periodically held up their hands, which were painted red. 

Where the Committee goes from here in its investigation of Penn

Committee Chair Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) told The Daily Pennsylvanian in an interview that there are no current plans for another hearing after Magill testified in December, pending the results of the recent requests for documents from Penn and other universities.

Foxx added that the committee expected Penn's rolling submission of documents “all to come together." She also indicated that it was still an open question whether Penn will face subpoenas like Harvard, describing Magill's resignation as only part of the committee's efforts to "hold universities accountable" in the wake of the Oct. 7, 2023 Hamas attacks on Israel.

“It’s very important that the American people hear what [the students] have been through, and that we not end with what we did last December with the presidents of the universities, because they weren’t very forthcoming,” Foxx told the DP.

After each student gave their initial remarks, Foxx opened up the floor for questioning from representatives. Representative Rick Allen (R-G.A.) asked Rubin “who planted the seed” of antisemitism at Penn. In part of his response, Rubin attributed the root of his concerns to what he described as a "huge problem with outside extremists coming onto our campus" — in addition to his concerns about the conduct of University faculty members such as Booth.

"That's the root cause, is that we have extremists on our campus," Rubin said. "And like some of the other students have said, there's no moral clarity in our administration to call out extremism."

Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi Representative Rick Allen speaks at the roundtable hearing.

A letter from the Committee demanded Penn submit documents by Feb. 7 on its response to antisemitism on campus, citing multiple examples as “cases of Penn canceling or sanctioning speech it disfavored." A University spokesperson told the DP that the process for transferring documents would last multiple weeks. 

“It depends on what they say about why we didn’t get everything, but we expect them to send everything at one time,” Foxx said when asked if Penn would be subpoenaed.