A Harvard task force on antisemitism has gotten off to a rocky start, with complaints that the professor chosen to help lead the panel had signed a letter that was critical of Israel, describing it as “a regime of apartheid” for its treatment of Palestinians.

Harvard’s new interim president, Alan Garber, announced the formation of two “presidential task forces” on Friday, one to combat antisemitism and the other to combat Islamophobia and anti-Arab bias. The move came less than a month after his predecessor, Claudine Gay, was forced to step down over plagiarism accusations and criticism that she had been weak on reining in antisemitism.

But the choice for co-chair of the task force, Derek J. Penslar, a professor of Jewish history at Harvard, was met with opposition from Lawrence H. Summers, a former Harvard president, and Bill Ackman, a hedge fund manager whose relentless criticism of Dr. Gay helped bring about her downfall.

Dr. Penslar was among nearly 2,900 academics, clergy members and other public figures who signed an open letter in August, before the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, condemning the Israeli government and saying that it was determined to “ethnically cleanse all territories under Israeli rule of their Palestinian population.”


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