In the days and weeks following the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas on Israel, when more than 1,200 people were killed — most of them civilians — the reactions on college campuses, including some students and professors who seemingly cheered the attacks, shocked many.

“In nearly 50 years of @Harvard affiliation, I have never been as disillusioned and alienated as I am today,” former Harvard President Lawrence Summers wrote on X on Oct. 9. “The silence from Harvard’s leadership, so far, coupled with a vocal and widely reported student groups’ statement blaming Israel solely, has allowed Harvard to appear at best neutral towards acts of terror against the Jewish state of Israel.”

On Oct. 25, the U.S. House passed a resolution condemning the Hamas attacks in a 412-10 vote, with nine Democrats and one Republican opposed.

In the months since, several more resolutions have passed in the House and/or Senate, including one condemning Hamas for sexual violence, calling on Hamas to release hostages, and condemning antisemitism on college campuses.

Utah Rep. Burgess Owens has spoken out repeatedly about the rise in antisemitism, including in hearings held in the House Committee on Education & the Workforce. Another hearing, featuring the presidents of Rutgers, Northwestern and the University of California Los Angeles, will be held Thursday.

In an interview with the Deseret News on Wednesday, Owens said he sees the increasing hatred expressed toward Jews and Israelis on college campuses as part of a larger problem.

“We need to continue to let people know that what we’re up against is not just something that happened on Oct. 7. We have administrators, we have people in DEI offices, and indoctrination of divisiveness and hatred. We have allowed them to come into our college campuses, and increase what it costs to go to college,” he said.

Owens said he doesn’t think things will change until the American people “educate themselves” on what is going on, and he thinks Republicans in the House, by shining a light on the issue, are doing their part to increase understanding of the issue.

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Rise in antisemitism

Since Israel responded to the Hamas attacks by launching a war in Gaza, displacing an estimated 1.5 million people, and leading to thousands of civilian deaths, students on college campuses across the country have held anti-war and anti-Israel rallies. At times, these rallies have included antisemitic incidents.

Hillel International, a global Jewish student organization, said since Oct. 7, there have been 1,597 reports or antisemitic incidents on college campuses, a 700% increase compared to last year. Even before the explosion in incidents this year, Jews were already the target of the highest number of religion-based hate crimes, according to the latest FBI hate crime statistics.

In response to the rise, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights has filed lawsuits on behalf of Jewish students against university administrators at a number of colleges, including Harvard University, UC Berkeley Law, American University and the University of Vermont.

What can Congress do about antisemitism?

But there is, of course, a limit to what Congress can do to combat hate on college campuses, whether that’s against Jews, Muslims or any other students.

Owens said he thinks Congress should withhold funds from college campuses that allow antisemitism and other bigotry to fester. But while legislation along those lines may pass the Republican-controlled House, it is unlikely to clear the Democratic-controlled Senate or White House.

Other attempts to address antisemitism in Congress have also received pushback.

Earlier this year when the House passed the Antisemitism Awareness Act, which would define antisemitism in federal law, the legislation was criticized by lawmakers and others across the political spectrum.

In a column in the Free Press, conservative Christopher F. Rufo and progressive Jenin Younes wrote: “Existing laws against trespassing, violence, and property destruction are sufficient to deal with unlawful expressions of antisemitism on campus. And campus codes of conduct, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, religion, and ethnicity, cover much else.

“‘Hate speech’ provisions, on the other hand, are unnecessary, ill-defined, and often in conflict with fundamental First Amendment rights,” they said.

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Owens: DEI programs to blame for antisemitism, other prejudice

The other power Congress has is to call on Americans to testify in front of legislative committees, which has led to the testimonies of several college presidents and administrators in the House this year — including the presidents of Harvard, Penn and MIT, who faced withering criticism over their responses to questions.

Owens, who has participated in most of these hearings, said what has come to light during the hearings has shown the problems on college campuses, where progressive ideologies have been taught to students, including that Jews are “oppressors,” as part of diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

“We are at a time now where we understand our education is at risk,” he said.

Americans are losing trust in universities after witnessing the protests on campuses, he said.

“We’ve got to end this, taxpayer dollars shouldn’t pay for that kind of craziness,” he said of DEI programs, which he said also teach Black Americans to hate white Americans. “I have seen it. But we just call it teaching — one race to hate another, not matter what race, what religion. That’s not the American way.”

He also criticized the way students have protested the war in Gaza, saying the vandalism associated with student encampments on campus shows they “feel entitled, they don’t understand respect for other people’s property.”

“And this is where it’s up to us to make sure that we’re teaching accountability,” he said.

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