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Seven Key Moments from Ways & Means Hearing on Nexus Between Antisemitism, Tax-Exempt Universities, and Terror Financing

November 17, 2023

WASHINGTON – The Ways and Means Committee heard testimony this week about the explosion of antisemitism on the campuses of American colleges and universities since the October 7th Hamas attack on Israel. These educational institutions enjoy lucrative tax advantages – including on their endowments – while across the country, Jewish students report feeling unsafe, scared, and isolated on their campuses. One witness, a Cornell student, shared her story of fearing for her life from violent death threats the same day college administrators falsely claimed students were safe. The refusal to condemn antisemitic intimidation, harassment, and violence fits into a broader pattern of colleges protecting speech preferred by left-wing administrators and professors rather than the actual principles of free speech. 

In his opening statement, Chairman Smith explained how universities – which are tax exempt because of their educational mission – have shifted from free speech to preferred speech, creating a double standard that has led to Jewish students facing threats of violence and intimidation, all while failing to protect their safety:

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…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.”

Click here to read Chairman Smith’s opening statement. 

During the hearing, the Committee also dug deeper into the history of U.S. tax-exempt groups financing terror, like the Holy Land Foundation, a tax-exempt charity that funneled $12.4 million from Americans to fund Hamas before it was shut down by the U.S. government in the early 2000s. The Committee learned that another group, American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), has many of the same individuals involved in its leadership as the Holy Land Foundation. Witnesses testified to how potential changes in U.S. law could further protect American taxpayers from providing tax benefits to groups supporting terror.

Hamas-Aligned Charities are Operating in Plain Sight Across America

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. Chairman Smith (MO-08) questioned Dr. Jonathan Schanzer about the role 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organizations have played in these movements and the federal government’s responsibility to respond:

Chairman Smith“Dr. Schanzer, we know the hateful attacks we’re seeing on Jewish students at college campuses is not occurring in a vacuum. Can you help us take a step back and explain the financing, including the role of 501(C)(3)s and 501(C)(4)s here in the US that generate resources that are used, in some cases, to support outright terrorist groups like Hamas from within the US?”

Dr. Jonathan Schanzer, terrorism financing expert: “The cases that I discussed in my testimony, both spoken and written, address three charities that had been exploited by Hamas here in this country. It was quite an effort to track them down back in the 2000s. My concern right now is that America’s focus has shifted over the last decade or so. First, it was ISIS, then it was Russia, then it was China. My concern right now is that we’ve taken our eye off the ball. I am not aware of significant efforts within the US government to track Hamas over the last 10 years. Yes, over the last month, we have seen a significant uptick, and justifiably so. My fear, though, is that we’ve had 10 years of just a blind spot as it relates to Hamas, perhaps other groups as well. As you know, the US government has pivoted away from what used to be known as the global war on terror. As we’ve now shifted into what we now describe as great power competition. It’s my belief, my strong belief that we need to learn how to walk and chew gum here. We’re going to continue to see terrorist attacks against the United States and our allies. Unfortunately, I think this is just a reality. We need to make sure that we have the resources within the bureaucracy to tackle these problems, while addressing the threats of Russia and China and others.

Cornell Student Speaks Out: “I knew that my roommates and I being outspoken Jewish community leaders…would be one of the first targets.”

Since the October 7th Hamas attack on Israel, Jewish college students have been physically harassed, had their dorm room door set on fire, and been forced to walk by slogans posted on campus calling for the genocide of the Jewish people, among other horrific acts. Cornell was no different. A professor called the attack “exhilarating” and Jewish students were the subject of violent death threats targeting the Jewish dining hall. Cornell student Talia Dror described in vivid detail how she feared for her life after those death threats.

Talia Dror, Cornell University student: “On the morning of October 29, the Provost in an address to concerned Jewish parents explained that while he understands concerns for their children’s physical safety, that they shouldn’t be worried. Not seven hours later, Jewish students on campus received threats that said quote: 

‘If I see another Jew on campus, I will stab you and slit your throat. If I see another pig female Jew, I will drag you away, rape you and throw you off a cliff. Jews are human animals and deserve pigs’ death. Liberation by any means from the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free.’

‘Gonna shoot up 104 West, the Kosher dining hall. Glory to hamas, liberation by any means necessary.’

“That night I sat in my locked house pondering my mortality. I knew that with my roommates and I being openly Jewish community leaders, our apartment would be one of the first targets for someone looking to actualize the threats. I thought back to the stories my mother told me growing up, how as a young child, I found so much comfort in having the privilege of being protected by a country built on the foundation of equal opportunity and individual liberty.”

Anti-Semitic Student Group Twists Language and Intimidates Jewish Students 

Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is organized on 200 college campuses and acts as the student wing of American Muslims for Palestine. Former Israeli Special Envoy for Combating Antisemitism Noa Tishby walked through with Rep. Darin LaHood (IL-16) the tactics that SJP uses to persuade students to hate Israel, support Hamas, and further intimidate, bully, and harass Jewish students.

Rep. LaHood: “As we look at the language and the distortion and the tropes and the misconceptions that have been used on many of our campuses, can you talk about some of the examples of these being used against Israel?”

Noa Tishby, former Israeli Special Envoy for Combating Antisemitism: “There are so many I don’t even know where to start. The tactic that they use is, first of all, branding Israel an apartheid state and delegitimize Israel’s standing in the world. They’re trying to convince young and naive college students that Israel – is it a real state? Or is it a colonialist, settler endeavor that needs to be dismantled? They would use words like ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘genocide.’ They’re actually convincing college kids…that actually are convinced that Israel is committing an ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. Representative, this is a blood libel. This is absolutely not true…The worst lie of all, that they’re using, is denying the indigeneity of the Jewish people to the land of Israel. They’re actually saying that Israel does not have a claim, Jews have no claim to the land. You don’t need to believe in the Bible, the New Testament, the Old Testament, or the Quran, you need to just know history and believe in archaeology and science. These are the tactics that they use…They have confiscated the word ‘Zionism.’ They have turned the word ‘Zionism’ into a bad word, into a slur…You say the word Zionism and people are like, ‘Oh, my God. I’m triggered.’ Why are you triggered by the Jewish people’s right to have a state? You shouldn’t be triggered by that…This is a human rights issue. Nothing more, nothing less.”

New Bill Would Revoke Tax-Exempt Status for American Charities Funding Terrorism

Committee investigations have revealed that American charities funding terrorism are potentially abusing the tax code to help fund groups like Hamas. The Holy Land Foundation sent $12.4 million to Hamas, and the American branch of Islamic Relief Worldwide, a member of a group the Treasury Department determines funds terrorism, raised $67 million last year alone. Bipartisan legislation introduced this week by Rep. David Kustoff (TN-08) and Rep. Brad Schneider (IL-10) would revoke the tax-exempt status of charities funding or providing support to terrorist groups.

Rep. Kustoff: Yesterday, my colleague Congressman Brad Schneider and I introduced a bipartisan piece of legislation, H.R. 6408. It would authorize the Department of Treasury to revoke the tax-exempt status of any nonprofit deemed to be providing material support or resources to a terrorist group, like Hamas, or any other terrorist group. Back in your role at Treasury, can you talk about the benefit that that legislation could provide, if in fact, were enacted by Congress?”

Dr. Jonathan Schanzer, terrorism financing expert: I did see H.R. 6408, and I think it is a worthwhile initiative. I think that there was a time where Treasury used to track domestic groups and actually sanction them. It has stopped doing that. We don’t do that anymore. We only target external groups, foreign terrorist organizations, foreign charities, foreign individuals. That’s what the Treasury does now. This is probably something that the Department of Justice and the FBI would be able to wield. If Treasury identifies one of those, and they’re identified pursuant to this proposed law, then it would be probably something that the Department of Justice and FBI would follow up on. But I do see this as a very valuable tool.

“Disappointing:” Universities Taking Middle Eastern Money Often Slow to Condemn Antisemitism on Campus

Examples of college presidents failing to show moral clarity and leadership after Hamas’s terrorist attack or the eruption of antisemitism on college campuses are many, but a few stand out – Northwestern University’s president refused to make any statement, Harvard University took days to issue an equivocating statement, and the president of Cornell had to amend her statements to say she thought the Hamas’s attack was an act of terrorism. New evidence reveals Middle Eastern countries donated hundreds of millions to these universities. Rep. Carol Miller (WV-01) asked whether the response of American colleges was influenced by these donations.

Rep. Miller: Mr. Lehman while I’ve highlighted Northwestern’s response, in particular today, they’re not the only ones to disappoint in this important moment. How do you think we should look at Northwestern and other schools’ responses to Hamas attacks? Do you believe that their neutrality and inaction are a result of their financial ties to countries known to support terrorist organizations like Hamas?”

Adam Lehman, President and CEO of Hillel International: “Thank you, Congresswoman Miller. I would say the following. While at Hillel, we can’t know for sure how funding is or isn’t impacting the administration. Here’s what we can say for sure. It was very disappointing to see Northwestern University not speak out, and that was joined by so many other universities who also chose not to speak out. As President Ben Sasse at University of Florida shared, this is ‘not hard,’ so they missed that opportunity, horribly.

“Microcosm of What We’re Watching Across the Country:” Antisemitism at the University of Pennsylvania

During the hearing, witnesses and members shared numerous examples of antisemitic acts on college campuses since the October 7th attack on Israel. Much of the hateful language seen in recent weeks has reflected pro-Hamas rhetoric, like smearing Jews as “Nazis” and calling for a violent intifada. As Dr. Jonathan Schanzer shared with Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), the University of Pennsylvania has been one of the worst offenders nationwide.

Rep. Fitzpatrick: “You’ve been observing an uptick in violence on college campuses linked to Hamas propaganda for quite some time now. Beyond this example, can you provide this committee for the record, because we want to get a lot of this on the record today, other examples that you’ve witnessed the violent rhetoric being spread to students since the war began, and how Hamas propaganda has been funneled down to groups on campuses throughout America?”

Dr. Jonathan Schanzer, terrorism financing expert: “Penn is probably the worst campus that I’ve seen during all this, and this takes nothing away from what we’ve seen in Cornell. I’ll go through just a couple of the examples of what we’ve seen the kinds of rhetoric and the threats that have been taking place on this campus. It is embarrassing to me, as a son of Philadelphia and as a Jew to see this happening. It is unbelievable that it’s happening in America for that matter. You have a speaker at Penn against the occupation, a rally praising Hamas for a job well done on 10/7. We have at Penn’s AEPi house someone scribbled the message ‘Jews are Nazis.’ The Hillel was broken into. The Chabad was vandalized. A swastika was drawn on an academic building. We’re watching protests where they’re calling for Palestine from the river to the sea. This is calling for the destruction of the State of Israel. They’re calling for an intifada, a violent uprising.There’s a vigil and a walkout to honor the Palestinian martyrs, those that are killed fighting against Israel. And then finally, a Faculty Senate statement published that was really, I think, the end message was that the university should not cave to Jewish donors who are demanding change. This is unbelievable that it’s taking place at Penn. It’s unbelievable that it’s taking place in America, and it’s just a microcosm of what we’re watching across the country.”