Former Harvard President Has “Lost Confidence” in University Over Response to Antisemitism
The recent developments at Harvard University regarding their response to antisemitism have caused significant concern, particularly among conservative circles. Harvard’s appointment of Professor Derek Penslar as co-chair of a new task force on antisemitism has been met with skepticism and disappointment, most notably by Harvard’s President Emeritus Larry Summers.
Summers, a respected figure who served as president of Harvard from 2001 to 2006, recently expressed his disillusionment with the university’s current leadership. In a candid Twitter/X post, he stated that he had “lost confidence” in Harvard’s commitment to being a place where Jews and Israelis can thrive. This sentiment strikes a chord with many who perceive a growing trend of antisemitism in academic institutions, often masked under the guise of intellectual debate or political correctness.
Summers’ concerns are not unfounded. Penslar’s track record includes controversial statements and positions that many find incompatible with leading a task force against antisemitism. He has minimized the severity of Harvard’s antisemitism problem, rejected the US government’s broad definition of antisemitism, and even referred to Israel as an apartheid state. These viewpoints, while perhaps valid in an academic discussion, raise serious questions about his suitability to lead a task force intended to combat antisemitism.
The irony of Penslar’s appointment is hard to miss. A task force designed to address antisemitism is co-chaired by someone who has publicly made statements that many within the Jewish community find deeply offensive and concerning. This decision by Harvard not only undermines the credibility of the task force but also sends a disconcerting message to the Jewish community about the university’s stance on antisemitism.
Moreover, the dissolution of a previously touted advisory committee on antisemitism without any significant outcomes, and the resignation of Rabbi David Wolpe in frustration, further underscores the inadequacy of Harvard’s approach. Wolpe’s resignation followed an incident where former Harvard President Claudine Gay failed to acknowledge calls for the genocide of Jews as antisemitic. This is a telling example of the increasing challenges faced by Jews in academia and the reluctance of institutions to address these issues head-on.
Summers’ call for Penslar’s resignation from the task force is a step towards rectifying this misstep. However, it will take more than personnel changes to address the deeper issues at play. Harvard, and indeed other academic institutions, must acknowledge the growing concerns of antisemitism within their walls.
In a broader context, this situation reflects a worrying trend in academia where the lines between academic freedom and bigotry are becoming increasingly blurred. Universities must strive to create an environment where all students and faculty, regardless of their background or beliefs, feel safe and respected. The task force at Harvard could have been a step in the right direction, but its current trajectory seems to be doing more harm than good. Harvard’s leadership has a responsibility to rectify this situation and restore faith in their commitment to being a place where all, including Jews and Israelis, can flourish.