Harvard Under Fire for Appointing Controversial Chair to Antisemitism Task Force

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

Professor Derek Penslar was appointed alongside Raffaella Sadun, a business administration professor, to lead the task force, which was created following the resignation of former Harvard President Claudine Gay. She stepped down over controversy surrounding her statements about antisemitism during a congressional hearing, as reported by Axios.

Garber also confirmed the formation of a Presidential Task Force on Combating Islamophobia and Anti-Arab Bias. It will be led by Wafaie Fawzi, a global health professor, and Asim Ijaz Khwaja, an international finance and development professor.

Last year, before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, Penslar joined around 2,900 academics, clergy, and public figures to sign a letter claiming the Israeli government aims to “deprive Palestinians of equal rights” and “ethnically cleanse all territories under Israeli rule of their Palestinian population.”

Derek Penslar’s appointment has garnered criticism from former Harvard President Larry Summers and billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, who have previously condemned antisemitism at Harvard. Penslar, in an opinion piece last month, called for “a better understanding of what is — and is not — antisemitic” and said “Conflating criticism of Israel with antisemitism magnifies divisions within our Harvard community.”

The university believes Penslar’s perspective as a co-chair will contribute to combating antisemitism at Harvard. However, Ackman stated that Harvard “continues on the path of darkness” by appointing Penslar to head the antisemitism task force.

Summers expressed a loss of confidence in Harvard’s ability to maintain a welcoming environment for Jews and Israelis with Penslar leading the task force. He acknowledged Penslar’s scholarly credentials but suggested he is unfit to address Harvard’s antisemitism issue due to his past actions.

The appointment has also drawn criticism from Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, who called it “lessons in how NOT to combat antisemitism, Harvard edition.”

A Harvard spokesman defended Penslar, stating he is “widely respected across the Harvard community” for his open-mindedness and commitment to addressing antisemitism and improving the experience of Jewish students at Harvard.

Penslar addressed the task force and emphasized its importance in identifying antisemitism and social exclusion affecting Jewish students at Harvard.

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