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Chairman Smith Opening Statement – Hearing on the Nexus Between Terror Financing, Tax-Exempt Charities, & Antisemitism

November 15, 2023

As prepared for delivery.

“Good afternoon, everyone. I want to recognize two members who are leaving Congress, Brad Wenstrup and Brian Higgins. Brad has devoted his life to service, whether in the Army, as a doctor, or in Congress, and Brian has been a tireless advocate for Western New York, dating all the way back to his time on the Buffalo City Council. We all wish you both well in your next chapter.

“The October 7th terrorist attack by Hamas was barbaric and horrifying. Civilians were targeted, tortured, raped, murdered, and kidnapped. Approximately 240 people are being held hostage in Gaza right now. They range in age from 9 months old to 85 years old and come from 33 countries – including the U.S. The families of these hostages are living in anguish hoping and praying their loved ones are alive and will come home. We stand with these families and Israel. We affirm Israel’s right to fully defend itself against terrorists.

“While we stand with the Jewish people, what makes this moment worse is that many have responded by blaming Israel.

“Unfortunately, the hateful beliefs behind the attack are not isolated to the Middle East. This Committee has jurisdiction over the tax code and must address two related issues that have been laid bare in the aftermath of October 7th.

“First, tax-exempt charities operating in the United States are providing support, encouragement, and potential financing to Hamas and Hamas-affiliated groups. This concern is not theoretical. In the early 2000s, the U.S. government identified and shut down the Holy Land Foundation in the United States. That foundation funneled $12.4 million from Americans to Hamas.

“Shockingly, a 501(c)(3) entity called American Muslims for Palestine, and its related (c)(4), have been sued in federal court for operating as an alter ego of the Holy Land Foundation. The two groups have many of the same leaders and may be continuing the same efforts to support Hamas.

“Second, the eruption of hatred toward Jewish students on college campuses after the October 7th attack has been disturbing to watch. But the organization around it is not some organic movement – it has been carefully built over years, in part, by American Muslims for Palestine. They helped build, shape, and train a group called Students for Justice in Palestine or SJP. Many SJP events have involved pro-Hamas slogans and have led to intimidation, harassment, and violence against Jewish students.

“Unfortunately, an absence of leadership on college campuses has allowed hostility toward Jewish students to escalate since October 7th. And too many university presidents have sought to placate the most radical voices on their campuses.

“University presidents were quick and forceful in issuing statements supporting numerous social justice matters. They haven’t shied away from commenting on other events affecting their students. But when it comes to the bloodiest days for Jews since the Holocaust, they couldn’t find their voices.

“Cornell’s president had to clarify her initial vague statement to let people know she does think Hamas’s attack was terrorism. Harvard’s president waited days to comment, allowing student groups condemning Israel to implicitly speak for the university.

“At the same time, we have seen pro-Palestinian protests become means of intimidation and threats of violence. When they fail to act, universities claim it’s about free speech rights. But this is laughable. These universities have a track record of failing to protect free speech rights while instead protecting preferred speech. In fact, colleges are actively suppressing speech protected by the First Amendment. 

“For example, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, rates universities on their commitment to free speech on campus. The University of Pennsylvania’s latest rating is quote “Very Poor.” This is likely due to multiple instances of professors being investigated and disciplined for expressing various opinions related to race and gender. Universities can and should protect free speech rights on campus for all voices, not just the ones they prefer.

“This shouldn’t be hard. Good people around the world have the moral clarity to call out evil as evil, terrorism as terrorism. We should have that same moral clarity as we proceed today.

“Thank you.”