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House Ways and Means Committee Again Threatens Harvard’s Tax-Exempt Status Over Campus Antisemitism

A House committee once again threatened Harvard's tax-exempt status in a Thursday letter.
A House committee once again threatened Harvard's tax-exempt status in a Thursday letter. By Julian J. Giordano
By Emma H. Haidar, Crimson Staff Writer

The House Ways and Means Committee pressed Harvard to defend its efforts to combat antisemitism on campus and again threatened its tax-exempt status in a Thursday letter to interim University President Alan M. Garber ’76.

In the letter, Committee Chair Rep. Jason T. Smith (R-MO.) slammed what he called a “pervasive culture of antisemitism” that has “created a hostile environment for Jews on campus,” suggesting that Harvard’s tax-exempt status could be in jeopardy.

The committee requested Harvard provide documents related to Garber’s presidential task force on antisemitism, as well as the now-defunct antisemitism advisory group established by former Harvard President Claudine Gay prior to her resignation earlier this year.

Smith wrote to Garber that the committee seeks “to understand what universities like yours are doing, if anything, to change course drastically and address what has gone unaddressed for years.”

“Doing so is essential to justifying the generous tax-exempt status that the American people have provided institutions like yours for decades,” Smith wrote.

The committee’s request comes two months after its initial letter to Garber, which also asked about the University’s diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and speech policies.

In a Thursday statement to The Crimson, Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote that “Harvard is committed to cooperating with the Committee’s inquiries.”

“Harvard has strongly denounced antisemitism on our campus and made clear that the University will continue to take action, as a community, to address and combat antisemitism,” he added.

Smith also criticized Garber’s selection of Derek J. Penslar to lead Harvard’s antisemitism task force, writing that Penslar’s appointment “only increased” his “concerns.”

“Appointing someone who has previously called Israel a ‘regime of apartheid’ and called on Congress to restrict aid to Israel is an odd way to combat antisemitism on campus,” he wrote.

Garber previously drew intense backlash for tapping Penslar to head the antisemitism task force, with critics alleging that Penslar had downplayed problems of antisemitism on campus.

In a Thursday statement to The Crimson, Penslar wrote that he has never “said Israel is an apartheid state.”

“Everything I have written and taught supports the Jewish people’s right to a homeland and the right of the state of Israel to exist in peace and security,” Penslar wrote.

In the letter, Smith asked Garber to explain why Rabbi David J. Wolpe resigned from Gay’s antisemitism advisory group in December and why Harvard Business School professor Rafaella Sadun, a former co-chair of Garber’s antisemitism task force, stepped down from her post.

Sadun resigned only five weeks after the task force had been established, citing concerns that the University would not commit to the group’s recommendations. Harvard Law School professor Jared A. Ellias replaced Sadun as co-chair.

This latest information request from the Ways and Means Committee comes amid a flood of similar demands from Congress. Last month, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, also led by Republicans, subpoenaed three top Harvard officials for documents related to alleged antisemitism on campus.

The Ways and Means Committee gave Harvard until April 4 to respond.

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

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Central AdministrationGovernmentUniversityUniversity NewsAlan GarberCongressLeadership Crisis