Apr 22, 2024 - Politics & Policy

House members clash over antisemitism in dueling Columbia visits

Left: Reps. Mike Lawler and Anthony D'Esposito at a press conference surrounded by people with Israeli flags. Right: Reps. Jared Moskowitz, Kathy Manning, Josh Gottheimer and Dan Goldman at a press conference, standing behind a podium in front of a glass wall.

Reps. Mike Lawler and Anthony D'Esposito (left) and Reps. Jared Moskowitz, Kathy Manning, Josh Gottheimer and Dan Goldman (right) holding press conferences at Columbia University in New York City, N.Y., on April 22, 2024. Photos: Andrew Solender/Axios.

Members of Congress flocked to the Columbia University campus on Monday amidst raucous protests over the Israel-Hamas war and concerns about the safety of Jewish students and faculty.

Why it matters: The lawmakers, who came as separate Democratic and Republican delegations, diverged on legislative solutions and whether Columbia President Minouche Shafik should resign.

  • Shafik and other Columbia leaders testified to Congress on Wednesday about the university's handling of increasing reports of antisemitism.

What's happening: Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.), Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.) and Kathy Manning (D-N.C.) toured the campus escorted by the school's vice president for public safety, Gerald Lewis.

  • Afterwards, the four Jewish lawmakers held a press conference outside Columbia's Center for Jewish Life at which Gottheimer decried the protests as a "new low."
  • Just down the block on 116th Street, Reps. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) and Anthony D'Esposito (R-N.Y.) held a press conference surrounded by staunch pro-Israel demonstrators.

What they're saying: "I think that the Jewish students here need to know that people do stand with them," D'Esposito told Axios in an interview.

  • "Very often, unfortunately, in this city they hear from the louder voices that are against them, and I think it's time they see that there are elected officials, there are people in the media who support them."
  • D'Esposito and Lawler signed onto a letter to Shafik with the rest of their New York Republican colleagues urging her to "step down immediately."

The other side: "I think it is very easy and very politically expedient to simply call for the resignation of anyone who does not do exactly right in every situation," Goldman told reporters.

  • Goldman said he has seen "encouraging" statements and actions from Shafik and said she is "working towards resolving this problem."
  • Still, Gottheimer said, "the pressure is on" for Shafik: "There has to be accountability … we're going to be watching every step of the way."

The latest: Unauthorized pro-Palestinian demonstrations at Columbia entered their sixth day on Monday, including during the lawmakers' visit, after more than 100 activists were arrested on Thursday.

  • Columbia official Cas Holloway, in an email to students on Sunday, announced enhancements to campus security going into this week, citing "extraordinarily challenging circumstances."
  • In a separate email to students early Monday morning, Shafik announced a working group of Columbia deans, administrators and professors to "try to bring this crisis to a resolution," including through talks with protesters.
  • Shafik also said there have "been too many examples of intimidating and harassing behavior on campus," adding that antisemitism language is "unacceptable and appropriate action will be taken."

Zoom in: Manning called for the Biden administration to "take all steps necessary to keep Jewish students and faculty safe" and promoted her bipartisan bill to create a federal office dedicated to fighting antisemitism.

  • Lawler and D'Esposito floated GOP legislation to restrict federal funds to colleges that "authorize antisemitic events" on campus: "These children are not entitled to it. It is a disgrace what is happening," said Lawler.

Axios' April Rubin contributed reporting for this story.

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