Biden Civil Rights Chief Plans To Give Columbia Law Commencement Speech As University Cancels Main Ceremony

Columbia beset by anti-Israel protesters who called for killing Israel's supporters and assaulted Jewish students

(Arturo Holmes/Getty Images for National Urban League)
May 8, 2024

The Biden administration’s civil rights chief Kristen Clarke is still planning to give the keynote speech at the Columbia Law School graduation next week, after Columbia canceled its main commencement ceremony amid attacks on Jewish students on campus, a Columbia spokeswoman confirmed to the Washington Free Beacon.

The news comes one day after House Republicans said Clarke’s "history of association with known anti-Semites" makes her unfit to prosecute anti-Semitism at Columbia and other universities. It also comes as Columbia Law School is facing heightened scrutiny this week, as over a dozen federal judges said they would not hire its graduates due to the "virulent spread of antisemitism" at the school.

Clarke, the head of the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice, has been petitioned by pro-Israel leaders to investigate the surge in anti-Semitism on college campuses.

She is also facing questions from a group of five Republicans, led by Rep. Claudia Tenney (R., N.Y.), who wrote to Clarke on Tuesday that they were "deeply concerned that your history of association with known anti-Semites hinders your ability to impartially support an investigation into violations of Title VI at Columbia University," according to the New York Post.

The letter noted that Clarke, while attending Harvard University in the 1990s, invited an anti-Semitic speaker who wrote a book claiming there was a Jewish conspiracy to subjugate black people. Clarke also defended former Women’s March leader Tamika Mallory against criticism of Mallory’s relationship with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

Anti-Semitism watchdogs told the Free Beacon last week they are concerned Clarke’s attendance at the Columbia Law School graduation ceremony will "tacitly endorse" the anti-Jewish atmosphere at the school.

The Department of Justice did not respond to a request for comment. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Columbia has been beset by anti-Israel demonstrations that have at times turned violent. Anti-Israel protesters have called for killing supporters of the Jewish state, assaulted Jewish students, burned Israeli flags, and chanted at Jews to "go back to Poland."

On Monday, 13 federal judges sent a letter to Columbia University president Minouche Shafik stating that they will "not hire anyone who joins the Columbia University community—whether as undergraduates or law students— beginning with the entering class of 2024," the Free Beacon reported.

"Since the October 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas, Columbia University has become ground zero for the explosion of student disruptions, anti-semitism, and hatred for diverse viewpoints," wrote the judges. "As a result, Columbia has disqualified itself from educating the future leaders of our country."

Clarke is no stranger to controversy over anti-Semitism on college campuses. While serving as head of Harvard’s Black Student Association in 1994, Clarke invited Tony Martin, the author of The Jewish Onslaught, an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory book, to speak at the university.

When the invitation drew criticism from Jewish leaders, Clarke defended Martin as an "intelligent, well-versed Black intellectual who bases his information on indisputable fact."

She apologized for the invitation decades later, during her 2021 confirmation hearings to become assistant attorney general, calling it a "mistake to accept [Martin's] offer to come and to defend him."