The Republican leader of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce is calling on Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to resign after he declined to explicitly denounce a phrase frequently chanted by pro-Palestinian protesters.
“Three months after October 7 and the disgusting antisemitic demonstrations that followed, there is no excusing Secretary Cardona’s cowardly evasion of the antisemitic character of the phrase ‘from the river, to the sea,’’’ Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said in a statement Wednesday.
In a call Tuesday with reporters from Jewish media outlets, Cardona was asked about protests on college campuses in the wake of the Hamas attack into Israel on Oct. 7 and Israel’s massive and ongoing military response. Specifically, Cardona was asked whether university administrators should consider chanting the phrase “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” was a form of antisemitism.
“If there are students who are feeling that statements by students … referred to genocide, or they’re feeling unsafe on campus, it is a responsibility of a university leader to get involved,” Cardona told the reporters, according to Jewish Insider. “This is an opportunity for leadership to bring people together to talk about it and to set clear lines on how you communicate while not making students feel threatened or unsafe on campus.”
Asked specifically whether the chant constitutes a call for genocide against Jews, Cardona declined to weigh in. “That’s why I say we investigate each case, and it’s difficult for me to make a statement here about that. If students are feeling unsafe with that, it’s the responsibility of leadership to act,” Cardona said in the account provided by Jewish Insider.
“I believe antisemitism can include anti-Zionist statements,” he said, and “we take that into account when looking at cases.”
The phrase “from the river to the sea” has become a flashpoint in discussions over campus antisemitism. Late last year, the presidents of three top universities were grilled by the Republican members of the Education Committee, and two of those leaders, Harvard’s Claudine Gay and the University of Pennsylvania’s Liz Magill, later resigned after an uproar over their lawyerly responses to questions.
An Education Department spokesman said Cardona and the department are “acutely aware that many find the chant threatening and antisemitic.”
“Secretary Cardona has been consistent that calls for genocide must never be tolerated, that antisemitism can include anti-Zionist statements, and that university leaders have a responsibility to act when students feel unsafe on campus,” the spokesman said. “Students should never feel unsafe on campuses, and the Department’s Office for Civil Rights will continue to investigate universities to ensure they address a hostile learning environment to ensure the safety of all students.”
In addition to Cardona’s response to questions about campus antisemitism, Foxx blasted the Joe Biden appointee’s handling of an update to the form used to apply for financial aid known as FAFSA that resulted in lengthy delays for parents and students.
“This nation deserves much better than bungling and deliberate misuse of taxpayer dollars,” Foxx said. “And Jewish students deserve to know that their Education Secretary understands the hate they face and has the necessary courage and clarity to confront it. It is time for the Secretary to resign.”