Former Senator Ben Sasse condemns academics for talking about 'Halloween costumes and microaggressions' but remaining silent on Hamas' terrorist attacks on Israel
- University of Florida President Sasse criticized university leaders' reaction to attacks on Israel.
- "It really doesn't seem like it should be that hard," he said.
Ben Sasse — the former Nebraska senator who became president of the University of Florida in February — condemned fellow university leaders for their responses to Hamas' terrorist attacks on Israel.
Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Sasse criticized universities for speaking about "every topic under the sun" — from Halloween costumes to microaggressions — but refraining from commenting during the "most grave grotesque attacks on Jewish people since the Holocaust" in the name of "complexity."
"It really doesn't seem like it should be that hard," Sasse told Fox News host Shannon Bream.
Sasse also said "I will not tiptoe around this simple fact: What Hamas did is evil and there is no defense for terrorism," in an email he wrote to "Jewish Gator Alums" last week, posted by The Wall Street Journal. "We will protect our students and we will protect speech," he wrote.
The University of Florida has the highest number of Jewish students of any public university in the country — close to one-fifth of the undergraduate student body is Jewish, according to a 2022 report from Hillel.
Sasse's comments come at a moment when many university leaders are grappling with how to address Hamas' attacks on Israel — inciting conversations between cancel culture and free speech on campuses.
Vanderbilt University's chancellor, Daniel Diermeier, released a statement soon after the attacks last Saturday, saying the "deeply layered and nuanced complexity" of the attacks was a reminder to "denounce violence." While the statement has since been removed from the university's website, it can be viewed in a post on X, where the comments are almost exclusively negative, denouncing it as "weak," "a joke," and "an absolutely cowardly statement."
Universities search for the right words to address the attacks
Some universities have issued more assertive statements. New York University's spokesperson, John Beckman, condemned the attacks on Israel in a statement issued last week. "Acts of terrorism are immoral. The indiscriminate killing of civilians and hostage-taking, including children and the elderly, is reprehensible. Blaming victims of terrorism for their own deaths is wrong," the statement noted.
Tensions have significantly escalated at Harvard University around its response to a letter initially signed by 34 student groups blaming the Israeli government for the attacks. When Harvard's president, Claudine Gay, initially released a statement saying that "no student group — not even 30 student groups — speaks for Harvard University or its leadership," the university faced criticism for slow and tepid response to the letter and attacks. Gay later put out a video last Thursday calling the acts "barbaric atrocities perpetrated by Hamas."
When asked about the students' letter and whether the university's condemnation of it was strong enough on Fox News Sunday, Sasse said there is "way too little education happening on a lot of elite campuses in America right now." He also said that educators should "stand up and actually read the Hamas charter on their campus and then grapple with the call for the genocide and eradication of the Jewish people."
The University of Florida, Harvard University, and Vanderbilt University did not immediately respond to a request for a comment from Insider made outside regular business hours.
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