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In the months since conflict reignited between Israel and Hamas, American colleges and universities have emerged at the forefront of America's divide on the Israel-Palestine issue.

Do denunciations of Israel's handling of the war in Gaza equate to anti-semitism? Where is the line between free speech and hate speech? How can learning institutions balance students' rights to protest with Jewish students' rights to feel safe on campus?

Media voices across the spectrum are grappling with these questions in light of controversial testimonies from the presidents of MIT, UPenn, and Harvard. The three presidents were widely criticized for their reluctance to deem anti-Israel protests on their campuses violations of campus policy, their defense of protesters on the ground of free speech, and their hesitation in answering if they would punish students for calling for the genocide of Jews. Others saw the questioning from Congressional Republicans as unfair.

The resulting backlash from the testimonies led Liz Magill, president of UPenn, to resign. Harvard President Claudine Gay faced similar heat, but kept her job after the university’s board unanimously backed her.

In the media, voices on the right called foul on the presidents' "free speech" argument, determining it to be at odds with the schools' handling of discussions pertaining to race, gender, and sexuality in recent years.

The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board (Lean Right bias) accused Harvard of "putting identity politics above liberal values" following the school's vocal support of President Gay. The board stated, "Perhaps Harvard’s overseers decided they had to rally behind Ms. Gay lest they appear to bend to pressure from donors and politicians. But if the only result of this sorry episode is circling the academic wagons, America will have reason to conclude the critics are right about the declining value of a Harvard education."

A writer in the Washington Examiner (Lean Right bias) determined the testimonies revealed the "institutional rot" in higher education, arguing that "it is one of mankind’s weaknesses that even in the most functional societies, success breeds failure. Bureaucratic defensiveness tends to overcome founding idealism, and covering one’s anatomy can outweigh intellectual integrity."

Voices on the left were split on the presidents' testimonies but broadly agreed that the framing of the questions was unfair and that the politicians posing the questions had ulterior motives.

A writer in New York Magazine (Left bias) determined universities should protect students from being "mobbed or having their classes occupied and disrupted," but argued universities should not block "an op-ed in the student newspaper calling to globalize the intifada" or prevent a "demonstration in an open space demanding 'From the river to the sea.'" Such actions by the university would "entail wholesale violations of free speech, which, in addition to the moral problem it would create, would likely backfire by making pro-Palestinian activism a kind of forbidden rebellion rather than (as many students currently find it) an irritant."

In the Daily Beast (Left bias), David Rothkopf (Lean Left bias) questioned the motivations of Republican lawmakers critical of the university presidents, writing, "Remember the very same people who are arguing today to condemn what they call 'antisemitism' (by which they mean support for the right-wing ethno-nationalist Israeli government) are the ones supporting a presidential candidate who has lifted up neo-Nazis and hate-fueled white supremacist garbage."

In the New York Times Opinion (Left bias), Maureen Dowd (Center bias) expressed disappointment in the "prevaricating presidents," writing, "I felt the same disgust with the Catholic Church sex scandal, seeing church leaders who were charged with teaching us right from wrong not knowing right from wrong. University presidents should also know right from wrong. As left-wing virulence toward Jews collides with right-wing virulence, these academics not only didn’t show off their brains, they didn’t show their hearts."

More from AllSides

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More from the Center

Colleges grapple with guarding free speech, condemning hate speech

"The Israel-Hamas war has sparked protests on both sides, from those backing Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack and from pro-Palestinian protesters who object to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. Universities have reported a rise in both antisemitism and Islamophobia."

More from the Left

The conversation we can’t avoid about pro-Palestinian campus protests
CNN (opinion)

"The timing of the hearing suggests to me that something else is going on as well. Accusations of antisemitism are being used to silence criticism of the state of Israel. Lawmakers on the committee blurred the line between Jews and Israel and equated antisemitism and pro-Palestinian dissent."

More from the Right

The Rotten Core Of College Campuses
Reason (opinion)

"The problem here is not the First Amendment or any campus speech protocol. The root of the problem is the rotten core of college campuses. From the earliest age, students are inculcated with a flawed philosophy: the world must be divided between the oppressed and oppressors."

See more big stories from the past week.