Harvard Anti-Semitism Task Force Member Called Israel a ‘Regime of Apartheid’

Derek Penslar (Twitter/University of Washington)
January 19, 2024

Harvard University’s newest appointee to its anti-Semitism task force has called Israel an "apartheid regime" and defended disgraced former Harvard president Claudine Gay amid calls that she be fired for her failure to condemn anti-Semitic protesters at the school.

Interim Harvard president Alan Garber tapped Derek Penslar, a professor of Jewish history, to serve on the Presidential Task Force on Combating Anti-Semitism, created to identify "the root causes" of anti-Semitism at the Ivy League school.

Garber also announced a task force to address Islamophobia, though there appear to be far fewer cases of anti-Muslim bias at the university. In one case, the wife of a Harvard professor referred to a keffiyeh—a black-and-white checkered scarf embraced by pro-Palestinian protesters—as a "terrorist scarf."

The Department of Education in November opened a civil rights probe into anti-Semitic incidents at the school, which included students calling for genocide against Jews. A day after Hamas’s terrorist attack, dozens of anti-Israel campus groups accused the Jewish state of provoking the violence. A group of Jewish students sued Harvard this month, claiming the school enables "Jew-bashing." Two students said the school has allowed protesters chanting "glory to the martyrs" to protest inside the law school student lounge.

The task force is launching amid criticism of Gay for her refusal at a congressional hearing in November to condemn protesters who called for a Holocaust against Jews. Gay resigned this month following Washington Free Beacon reports that she plagiarized much of her academic research.

Penslar, who organized other Harvard faculty members to defend Gay, may not be the best fit for the task force. While he has criticized anti-Israel initiatives like the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, Penslar has made other claims about the Jewish state that anti-Semites have used to call for the annihilation of Israel.

In August, he signed an open letter alongside hundreds of academics that called Israel "a regime of apartheid."

"There cannot be democracy for Jews in Israel as long as Palestinians live under a regime of apartheid," the letter states.

The letter asserts that American Jews "have paid insufficient attention to the elephant in the room: Israel’s long-standing occupation that, we repeat, has yielded a regime of apartheid."

The signatories asserted that Israel has in recent years "grown more right-wing and come under the spell of the current government’s messianic, homophobic, and misogynistic agenda." The letter calls on American leaders to "restrict American military aid" from being used in "the Occupied Palestinian Territories."

Penslar, who has written books about Jewish history and the founding of Israel, has said he is concerned with "rising anti-Semitism and about how hostility to Jews and Israel can be intertwined."

Harvard University and Penslar did not respond to requests for comment.