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Harvard antisemitism task force co-chair skips forum on related challenges

Amid calls for Derek Penslar to step down from the group after calling Israel an “apartheid” state, he said it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to deliver public comments.

Derek Penslar
Derek Penslar. Credit: Harvard University, Center for Jewish Studies.

A Harvard University professor who is facing pressure to step down from the school’s antisemitism task force due to his minimizing Jew-hatred and criticism of Israel, skipped a speaking engagement in New York on Sunday.

“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,” said Derek Penslar, director of the Center for Jewish Studies at Harvard, in a statement.

Gavriel Rosenfeld, president of the Center for Jewish History, read Penslar’s statement at the center’s forum on “Addressing Antisemitism: Contemporary Challenges.” Penslar was slated to speak on a panel about defining anti-semitism, which Rosenfeld moderated.

Kenneth L. Marcus, founder and chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, and Miriam Elman, executive director of the Academic Engagement Network, were the other panelists.

Other speakers at the event included a state senator; three city council members; Pamela Nadell, an American University historian who testified before a House committee on Dec. 5 with the presidents of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and American Jewish history professor Jonathan Sarna of Brandeis University.

Jonathan Brent, executive director of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, also moderated a panel.

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