Derek Penslar, co-chair of Harvard's antisemitism task force, ghosts panel discussion

Derek Penslar, who serves as the co-chair of Harvard's Presidential Task Force on Combating Antisemitism, had been scheduled to address a Sunday morning panel at the Center for Jewish History titled, 'What is Antisemitism? Definitions and Debates.'

Derek Penslar, co-chair of Harvard's antisemitism task force, ghosts panel discussion
AP Photo/Steven Senne, File
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The leader of Harvard University's antisemitism task force withdrew from a panel discussion on antisemitism scheduled for Sunday, stating that he was not willing to publicly address questions regarding events occurring at Harvard.

Derek Penslar, who serves as the co-chair of Harvard's Presidential Task Force on Combating Antisemitism, had been scheduled to address a Sunday morning panel at the Center for Jewish History titled, "What is Antisemitism? Definitions and Debates." Nevertheless, when the panel commenced, the moderator, Gavriel Rosenfield, disclosed that Penslar would not be participating and shared a statement from the Harvard professor. Penslar had previously come under scrutiny for endorsing an open letter that referred to Israel as "a regime of apartheid," the Washington Free Beacon reports.

"I am mindful of my role as co-chair of the Harvard Task Force on Combating Antisemitism," Penslar said in his statement, "and since at the symposium 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."

Penslar's appointment to the task force prompted extensive backlash, which included disapproval from prominent Harvard graduates. Larry Summers, a former Harvard president, recently expressed his belief that Penslar was not a suitable fit for the task force. Similarly, billionaire investor Bill Ackman asserted that Penslar's selection indicates that Harvard is persisting in a concerning direction.

During the panel, Glenn Dynner from Fairfield University defended Penslar's critics, alleging that they are pushing a "certain agenda."

"I do feel I should acknowledge … how problematic it is and the chilling effect that occurs when somebody's arguments and words are suddenly used against them and often twisted and used for a certain agenda," Dynner said after praising Penslar.

"I think all of us feel a little bit now worried that our words too are going to be twisted," he continued. "So there is a kind of chilling effect that I would like to acknowledge."

Both the Center for Jewish History and Penslar did not provide responses to comment requests. If he had taken part in the panel, Penslar would have spoke about "difficult challenges such as identifying the line between antisemitism and anti-Zionism, determining the differences between free speech and hate speech, and deciding the proper role universities should play in navigating these highly-charged issues."

Apart from endorsing the "apartheid" letter, Penslar also orchestrated an effort to support former Harvard president Claudine Gay when she came under pressure to step down due to her controversial testimony during a December congressional hearing regarding antisemitism on campus. During the panel, Dynner hinted at this incident, suggesting that the battle against antisemitism at Harvard has been manipulated for political motives.

"We've seen in the case of Harvard how a righteous cause, which is combating antisemitism, can also be exploited for political purposes to fight against diversity, equity, and inclusion and wokeism and so on and so forth."

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