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Garber Announces Presidential Task Forces on Antisemitism, Islamophobia at Harvard

Harvard interim President Alan M. Garber '76 announced the creation of two presidential task forces to address Islamophobia and antisemitism on campus in a Friday email.
Harvard interim President Alan M. Garber '76 announced the creation of two presidential task forces to address Islamophobia and antisemitism on campus in a Friday email. By Claire Yuan
By Emma H. Haidar and Cam E. Kettles, Crimson Staff Writers

Updated: January 19, 2024, at 10:24 a.m.

Interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber ’76 announced the launch of two presidential task forces to combat antisemitism and Islamophobia in an email to University affiliates on Friday.

The formation of the task forces comes as the University continues to respond to concerns and criticism of its handling of antisemitism and Islamophobia amid heightened tensions on campus since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

The two new task forces will examine the “recent history and current manifestations of bias” in light of war in Israel and Gaza and recommend steps to address bias at Harvard, Garber wrote.

“Reports of antisemitic and Islamophobic acts on our campus have grown, and the sense of belonging among these groups has been undermined,” Garber wrote. “We need to understand why and how that is happening—and what more we might do to prevent it.”

Congress is currently investigating Harvard over antisemitism on its campus following former President Claudine Gay’s congressional testimony early last month, during which she was widely perceived as being too permissive of antisemitic speech.

Following her testimony, the leadership of Harvard Hillel, the campus center for Jewish life, said they did not have faith in Gay to protect Jewish affiliates.

Many pro-Palestine Harvard affiliates have also slammed the University for what they say is its inaction around protecting Arab and pro-Palestine students and affiliates as students faced doxxing attacks over their alleged affiliation with a controversial pro-Palestine student statement.

While the University established a task force in October to support students who faced doxxing attacks, many affected students said the Harvard officials did not do enough to secure their safety on campus.

The taskforce on Islamophobia and anti-Arab bias will be led by Wafaie W. Fawzi, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and Asim Ijaz Khwaja, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School.

The taskforce on antisemitism will be led by Derek J. Penslar, a professor of Jewish history in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Rafaella Sadun, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School.

As president, Gay had established an earlier advisory group on antisemitism in October composed of eight Harvard affiliates. It is unclear whether any of the eight members of the previous advisory group will serve on Garber’s newly launched task force.

Prominent Rabbi David J. Wolpe, a visiting scholar at HDS, resigned from his position on Gay’s antisemitism advisory group on Dec. 7 following her congressional hearing.

The formation of the presidential task force to combat antisemitism also marked the end of the antisemitism advisory group formed by Gay last year.

University spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in a statement that the “advisory group has wrapped up its work, including having come up with recommendations for the charge and work of the Task Force on Combating Antisemitism, that will lead this initiative going forward.”

Gay was widely criticized by pro-Palestine students for establishing an advisory group to combat antisemitism at Harvard, but not creating a similar group to address Islamophobia on campus.

Garber wrote that the task forces have been instructed to “undertake broad outreach” among Harvard affiliates.

“I encourage you to share your perspectives and your experiences with equal measures of care and candor,” Garber added.

—Staff writer Emma H. Haidar can be reached at Follow her on X @HaidarEmma.

—Staff writer Cam E. Kettles can be reached at Follow her on X @cam_kettles or on Threads @camkettles.

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