Harvard has been criticised by its former president for appointing a Jewish professor who called Israel “an apartheid state” as co-chair of its antisemitism task force.
Professor Derek Penslar, a scholar of Jewish history, was handed the position by Alan Garber, Harvard's interim president after Claudine Gay was ousted.
However, Larry Summers, former Harvard president and Obama’s Treasury Secretary, warned against the move.
“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,’ he wrote on X.
“I have no doubt that Prof Penslar is a profound scholar of Zionism and a person of goodwill without a trace of personal anti-Semitism who cares deeply about Harvard.
“However, 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 antisemitism problem at Harvard.
“Prof Penslar has publicly minimized Harvard’s antisemitism 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.
“I hope Prof Penslar will recognize that he can best serve the task force's objectives by stepping away from serving as co-chair. Perhaps his colleagues on the task force can help him to the right conclusion.
“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.”
Last year Penslar, who was previously the inaugural holder of the Israel studies chair at Oxford University, wrote a book called “Zionism: An Emotional State,” in which he said “Israel’s dispossession of Palestinians from their land and oppression of those who remain have made it one of the most disliked countries on the planet.”
He also claimed that “Jewish culture was steeped in fantasies (and occasionally, acts) of vengeance against Christians.”
Penslar has denounced “Israel’s longstanding occupation” of Gaza and co-signed a letter condemning the Israeli government for its bid to “ethnically cleanse all territories under Israeli rule of their Palestinian population.”
“Meanwhile, American Jewish billionaire funders help support the Israeli far right,” the letter stated.