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Former Harvard president blasts university over antisemitism task force decision


(The Center Square) – Former Harvard President Larry Summers railed against the university over its decision to place an Israel critic on an antisemitism task force.

Interim Harvard President Alan Gerber announced the formation of the antisemitism task force in a letter to the university community on Jan. 19. Gerber tapped History professor Derek Penslar as a co-chair for the initiative. The same day, conservative writer Ira Stoll chronicled a series of incidents in which Penslar condemned the Jewish state, including accusing it of enacting “apartheid” against Palestinians.

Summers skewered the university on Twitter, lamenting its struggles to combat supposed antisemitism on campus.

“I have lost confidence in the determination and ability of the Harvard Corporation and Harvard leadership to maintain Harvard as a place where Jews and Israelis can flourish,” Summers tweeted.

Summers revealed that an original antisemitism task force organized by Harvard dissolved under mysterious circumstances and that the “most respected member,” Rabbi David Wolpe, walked out on the project.

The economics professor conceded that Penslar is a “profound scholar” on the history of the Jewish state, but argued that his political biases and downplaying of antisemitism make him an inappropriate choice to lead a task force designated with defending Jewish students.

“I believe that given his record, he is unsuited to leading a task force whose function is to combat what is seen by many as a serious anti-Semitism problem at Harvard,” Summers wrote.

“Prof Penslar has publicly minimized Harvard’s anti-Semitism problem, rejected the definition used by the US government in recent years of anti-Semitism as too broad, invoked the need for the concept of settler colonialism in analyzing Israel, referred to Israel as an apartheid state and more,” Summers continued.

Moreover, Summers argued that Penslar’s appointment suggests Harvard’s alleged antisemitic campus problems are far from being resolved.

“As things currently stand, I am unable to reassure Harvard community members, those we are recruiting or prospective students that Harvard is making progress in countering anti-Semitism,” he wrote.

Harvard has come under fire over allegations that it has allowed antisemitism to fester amid simmering campus tensions over the Israel-Hamas conflict. In the immediate aftermath of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks against Israel, several Harvard student groups issued statements condemning Israel and expressing support for the Palestinian cause. Prominent donors publicly lashed out at the university and vowed to withhold funds, citing insufficient support for Jewish students. Moreover, the institution faced withering criticism over its performance during a congressional hearing, in which former president Claudine Gay suggested that calls to genocide Jews may not violate the school’s conduct code.

After public backlash, Gay resigned.

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