fbpx
campus chaos

Harvard repeatedly and continuously sidelined and ignored antisemitism working group, House committee finds

A House Education and Workforce Committee report details the inner deliberations of Harvard’s Antisemitism Advisory Group and its conflicts with Harvard’s leadership

JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images

People walk through Harvard Yard at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts on December 12, 2023.

A new report released on Thursday by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce suggests that Harvard University continuously and repeatedly sidelined its Antisemitism Advisory Group and its recommendations, a situation that at one point prompted a majority of the working group’s members to threaten to resign en masse.

The report, based on internal communications and notes as well as a transcribed interview with advisory group member Dara Horn, details the work of the first of two antisemitism task forces the school has launched in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attack on Israel.

The House committee, investigating campus antisemitism, found that the working group provided recommendations to Harvard’s leadership in mid-December, which went largely unaddressed, that the working group identified severe antisemitic harassment and marginalization of Israeli students and that Harvard’s senior leadership sidelined the working group — including failing to consult with the group before the former Harvard president testified to the House committee.

The report highlights a series of incidents of antisemitism on Harvard’s campus for which the school could not point to any specific response or disciplinary action it had taken. It says that the working group itself found a similar pattern of unaddressed antisemitic harassment.

It also outlines a messy and unclear process for transitioning from the working group into the school’s new Antisemitism Task Force.

“The Committee’s report proves that former President Gay and Harvard’s leadership propped up the university’s Antisemitism Advisory Group all for show,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) said in a statement. “Not only did the AAG find that antisemitism was a major issue on campus, it offered several recommendations on how to combat the problem — none of which were ever implemented with any real vigor.”

“The University is grateful for the important work of the Antisemitism Advisory Group (AAG). At a critical time during the fall semester, the AAG contributed thoughtful perspectives and recommendations which helped establish the groundwork for ongoing efforts to combat antisemitism,” Harvard spokesperson Jason Newton said in a statement to Jewish Insider.

Newton insisted that “our community and campus are different today because of the actions we have taken, and continue to take” to address hate. He also accused the committee of “offering an incomplete and inaccurate view” of Harvard’s work by releasing “selective excerpts from internal documents.”

The committee revealed that a majority of working group members threatened to resign on Nov. 5, less than two weeks after the working group first met, unless the university committed to a series of concrete steps, some of which the group members demanded the university take within 48 hours. 

Horn, the author of a critically acclaimed book on antisemitism, told committee investigators they issued that threat because Harvard “didn’t seem to be responding to in any meaningful or public way” to a high-profile antisemitic incident, and “it didn’t seem like the deans at the various schools were taking this particularly seriously.”

From the beginning, Horn said the working group members’ role and responsibilities were never well-defined or publicized, and they were “inundated with… concerns from students” that they were unsure how to handle.

The members’ threat prompted a meeting between the working group’s members, former Harvard President Claudine Gay, then-Provost Alan Garber (who now serves as the school’s interim president following Gay’s resignation) and Harvard Corporation Senior Fellow Penny Pritzker, during which Gay apologized and warned that a group resignation would worsen the environment at Harvard.

That meeting was the only time any member of the Harvard Corporation, the school’s ultimate governing body, met with the working group.

Gay also issued a public statement and set up an email hotline for the committee. But Horn told investigators that she “continued to be frustrated with some of the lack of responses,” including the university’s continued failure to publicly clarify the working group’s role and responsibilities.

Horn said that she again considered resigning — as Rabbi David Wolpe did — after Gay’s testimony to the House committee, about which the working group was not consulted. She said that Harvard leadership internally sought to brush off the testimony and never explained why the working group wasn’t consulted.

According to the report, Harvard’s deans only met with the working group once, and did not provide any opportunity for the working group members to provide feedback and suggestions. Horn described their presentations as “disturbing” because she felt that the deans “didn’t really seem disturbed by the things that were happening” and seemed “perplexed by the situation.”

Working group communications and notes say that Jewish students felt that they had no clear authority to whom they could report their concerns, and that Harvard was not taking their concerns seriously or responding in a substantive manner.

They also indicate that working group members and Harvard leaders believed that many campus incidents fell within existing non-discrimination and bullying policies, but those were not enforced.

Harvard subsequently set up a second Antisemitism Task Force to replace the working group. According to Horn, the university never provided clarity about when, how and why the transition would take place, and did not inform working group members at the outset of their work that they would eventually be replaced.

“It seemed quite clear that there was an interest in getting our recommendations and moving on,” Horn told investigators, adding that she was concerned when told the working group would be replaced.

Horn specifically said she was disturbed by the selection of professor Derek Penslar, who had questioned the seriousness of antisemitism on Harvard’s campus, to lead the successor task force.

Recommendations put forward by the working group included enforcing existing rules to prohibit class disruptions and minimize protests inside buildings; banning masked protests; strictly enforcing of school policies on student group activity; sharing more information on disciplinary consequences; reviewing academic programs; reviewing and replacing “structural approaches to inclusion and diversity that may have inadvertently encouraged antisemitism”; and providing better education on antisemitism, Israel and the Jewish people. 

Internal notes also suggest concern about the potential influence of “Hamas funding” on Harvard’s campus, as working group members noted alleged links between groups backing campus pro-Palestinian activism and groups that had previously funnelled money to Hamas. They also indicate that at least one working group member was concerned that “student demonstrations [are] not organic but seeded.”

Harvard told the committee, in general terms, that it had investigated foreign donations from Middle Eastern nations and found “no issues.”

Addressing concerns about the “ostracization of Israeli students,” working group records identified a significant pattern of such behavior. They highlighted the student-led First Year International Student Orientation Program as a particular problem, “organized to platform an extraordinary amount of strident anti-Israel material,” according to minutes from one working group meeting.

The group also highlighted concerns about the “dramatic decline” in the Jewish undergraduate population at Harvard.

Working group members, in internal communications, blasted the school’s rapid move to set up a doxxing task force, without consulting the working group, primarily supporting students who had signed an Oct. 7 letter blaming Israel for the Hamas attack.

One group member described the move as “handing out milk and cookies to antisemites.”

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered each morning in a must-read newsletter.