Co-Chair of Harvard Antisemitism Task Force Resigns

The co-chair of a task force set up by Harvard University to combat antisemitism has resigned. It was the latest blow to the university’s efforts to address complaints that Jewish students have felt increasingly uncomfortable on campus since the Hamas attack of Oct. 7.

The co-chair — Raffaella Sadun, a professor of business administration — tendered her resignation on Sunday. She was appointed about a month earlier by Harvard’s interim president, Alan Garber.

Dr. Sadun said in a statement on Sunday that she would continue to support efforts to tackle antisemitism from her position on the Harvard faculty. She did not immediately respond to requests on Monday for comment.

Rabbi Hirschy Zarchi of Harvard Chabad said on Monday that he had heard “from numerous people familiar with her thinking” that Dr. Sadun was dissatisfied with the pace at which Harvard was addressing complaints of antisemitism.

He said others at Harvard shared her view. “There’s been a widespread sense in the community that there’s been so much data already on this,” Rabbi Zarchi said. “This task force was created in a recognition that there’s a problem. It’s difficult for many to understand why it takes so long to bring about the change in a more timely, urgent manner.”

The departure follows an uproar over the appointment of the task force’s other co-chair, Derek J. Penslar, a professor of Jewish history at Harvard.

In an interview with The Boston Globe published after he was appointed, Dr. Penslar questioned how severe a problem antisemitism was on campus.

“It’s not a myth, but it’s been exaggerated,” he was quoted as saying.

He said that even before Oct. 7, some Jewish students were “shunned” from “progressive political communities” over the students’ attachment to Israel. “Is that vicious antisemitism? No,” he told The Globe. “But it’s a form of social exclusion and social pressure.”

Dr. Penslar was one of nearly 2,900 academics and others who signed an open letter in August saying that Israel was “a regime of apartheid” and that the country was determined to “ethnically cleanse all territories under Israeli rule of their Palestinian population.”

But he also told The Globe that Israel was “a state that has every right to exist.”

Influential figures like Larry Summers, a former Harvard president and former Treasury secretary, and Bill Ackman, a billionaire hedge-fund manager and Harvard alumnus, raised questions about the selection of Dr. Penslar to help lead the task force.

Rabbi Zarchi said he had hoped that Dr. Sadun would be a counterweight to Dr. Penslar. “It was profoundly disturbing to me that she stepped down,” the rabbi said. “She was the one who was supposed to be the reassuring voice.” He added that he thought many of the other members of the task force were solid choices.

Along with Dr. Sadun’s resignation, Harvard announced the names of new members appointed to the antisemitism task force and to a parallel task force to address anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bias. A law professor, Jared Ellias, was named to replace Dr. Sadun in her leadership role.

“Over the past five months, grief, anger and fear have taken a toll on members of our community as divisions on our campus have persisted,” Dr. Garber, the university’s interim president, said in the announcement. “We must do more to bridge the fissures.”

Dr. Garber said the task forces’ work would take months and that he had asked them to submit recommendations as they went along, “so that we might consider, refine and implement interventions.”

An earlier incarnation of the antisemitism task force, a committee to advise Harvard’s president on strategies to counter antisemitism, was roiled by a resignation. A prominent California rabbi, David Wolpe, who is now a visiting scholar at Harvard’s divinity school, resigned from the committee, saying he did not feel he could make a difference there. The committee has since been disbanded.

Jewish students at Harvard have described feeling increasingly alienated on campus. Some have given up their kipas, or skullcaps, for baseball hats and say they now keep their Zionist beliefs to themselves in classrooms and residence halls.

Last week, a cartoon was circulated on Instagram by pro-Palestinian student groups at Harvard, showing a hand marked with a star of David and a dollar sign holding nooses around the necks of a Black man and an Arab.

After complaints about the cartoon, the student groups and a faculty group associated with them apologized for the imagery.

Alain Delaquérière contributed research.

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