Head of Harvard's Anti-Semitism Task Force Backs Out of Panel on Anti-Semitism


‘It would not be appropriate for me to make public comments at this time,’ Derek Penslar says in statement

Derek Penslar (Twitter/University of Washington)

The head of Harvard University’s anti-Semitism task force backed out of a panel on anti-Semitism he was scheduled to participate in Sunday, citing an unwillingness to answer questions publicly “about goings on at Harvard.”

Derek Penslar, co-chair of Harvard’s Presidential Task Force on Combating Anti-Semitism, was slated to speak at a Sunday morning Center for Jewish History panel titled, “What is Antisemitism? Definitions and Debates.” At the start of the panel, however, moderator Gavriel Rosenfield announced Penslar’s withdrawal from the event and read a statement from the Harvard professor, who has faced criticism for signing an open letter that called Israel “a regime of apartheid.”

“I am mindful of my role as co-chair of the Harvard Task Force on Combating Anti-Semitism,” Penslar said in his statement, “and since at the symposium I would invariably be asked to speak about the goings on at Harvard, and since the task force is only now just being put together, and its plan of action is being formed, it would not be appropriate for me to make public comments at this time.”

Penslar’s selection to the task force elicited widespread criticism, including from prominent Harvard alumni. Former Harvard president Larry Summers last week said Penslar was “unsuited” for the task force, while billionaire investor Bill Ackman said Penslar’s selection shows Harvard “continues on the path of darkness.”

One panel participant, Fairfield University’s Glenn Dynner, spoke out against Penslar’s critics, accusing them of pushing “a certain agenda.”

“I do feel I should acknowledge … how problematic it is and the chilling effect that occurs when somebody’s arguments and words are suddenly used against them and often twisted and used for a certain agenda,” Dynner said after praising Penslar.

“I think all of us feel a little bit now worried that our words too are going to be twisted,” he continued. “So there is a kind of chilling effect that I would like to acknowledge.”

Neither the Center for Jewish History nor Penslar responded to requests for comment. Had he participated in the panel, Penslar would have discussed “difficult challenges such as identifying the line between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, determining the differences between free speech and hate speech, and deciding the proper role universities should play in navigating these highly-charged issues.”

In addition to signing the “apartheid” letter, Penslar organized a campaign to defend former Harvard president Claudine Gay after she faced calls to resign over her disastrous testimony during a December congressional hearing on campus anti-Semitism. Dynner during the panel alluded to the ordeal, saying the fight against anti-Semitism at Harvard has been “exploited for political purposes.”

“We’ve seen in the case of Harvard how a righteous cause, which is combating anti-Semitism, can also be exploited for political purposes to fight against diversity, equity, and inclusion and wokeism and so on and so forth.”

Las Vegas News Magazine

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