Harvard Faces Backlash Over Appointment of New Chair for Antisemitism Task Force

Harvard University is facing criticism over interim President Alan Garber’s decision to appoint a professor of Jewish history to co-chair its newly formed Presidential Task Force on Combating Antisemitism, raising concerns about the professor’s criticisms of Israel.

Derek Penslar, the appointed professor, will be heading the task force along with Rafaella Sadun, a professor of business administration. The task force was formed following the resignation of former Harvard President Claudine Gay, who stepped down amidst controversy surrounding her statements about antisemitism during a congressional hearing, according to a report by Axios.

Additionally, Garber announced the formation of a Presidential Task Force on Combating Islamophobia, to be headed by Wafaie Fawzi, a professor of global health, and Asim Ijaz Khwaja, a professor of international finance and development.

Penslar has previously joined around 2,900 academics, clergy, and public figures in signing a letter that criticized the Israeli government’s actions against Palestinians prior to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack. His record also includes an opinion piece calling for “a better understanding of what is — and is not — antisemitic” and emphasizing the need to avoid conflating criticism of Israel with antisemitism.

Former Harvard President Larry Summers, alongside others such as billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, have expressed dissatisfaction with Penslar’s appointment. Summers stated that he has lost confidence in the university’s ability to maintain an environment where Jews and Israelis can flourish, while Ackman has condemned Harvard’s decision to appoint Penslar.

The appointment has also been criticized by Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, who referred to it as a display of “lessons in how NOT to combat antisemitism, Harvard edition.”

While a university spokesman stated that Penslar is respected for his open-mindedness and commitment to tackling antisemitism, Penslar himself expressed that the task force presents “an important opportunity to determine the nature and extent of antisemitism and more subtle forms of social exclusion that affect Jewish students at Harvard.”

Sandy Fitzgerald |

Sandy Fitzgerald has more than three decades in journalism and serves as a general assignment writer for Newsmax covering news, media, and politics.

© 2024 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

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