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Co-Chair of Harvard Antisemitism Task Force Resigns

The co-chair of a task force set up by Harvard University to combat antisemitism resigned on Sunday, the second high-profile resignation in the university’s efforts to address complaints that Jewish students have felt increasingly uncomfortable on campus since the Hamas attack of Oct. 7.

The co-chair, Raffaella Sadun, a professor of business administration, did not give a reason for stepping down, but a colleague said she appeared to be frustrated at how long it was taking to make progress on addressing the issue.

“Basically her conclusion is that she didn’t feel confident or satisfied that she could lead and influence this process in a way that made sense to her,” said Rabbi Hirschy Zarchi of Harvard Chabad, a Jewish campus organization. He said that he had spoken with several people with knowledge of Dr. Sadun’s thinking.

A nationally prominent rabbi, David Wolpe, resigned from a previous antisemitism advisory committee in early December, after widely criticized testimony about campus antisemitism before Congress by the former Harvard president, Claudine Gay. “Both events on campus and the painfully inadequate testimony reinforced the idea that I cannot make the sort of difference I had hoped,” he wrote on X at the time.

Then in January, the co-chair of the current task force, Derek Penslar, was revealed to have signed a letter calling Israel a “regime of apartheid,” prompting protests from many pro-Israel students and alumni who questioned whether he had their interests at heart.

Dr. Sadun did not return emails or phone messages asking about her departure. But the upheaval shows how volatile the climate has been at Harvard since the Hamas attack on Israel. The attack, and Harvard’s often fumbling responses to it, have intensified longstanding anxiety among Jewish students and alumni that they can no longer feel entirely at home at the Ivy League school.

Some Jewish students say they have given up their kipas, or skullcaps, for baseball hats. They say they now keep their Zionist beliefs to themselves in classrooms and residence halls.

Last week, a cartoon was circulated on Instagram by pro-Palestinian student groups, showing a hand marked with a star of David and a dollar sign holding nooses around the necks of a Black man and an Arab.

After complaints about the cartoon, the student groups and a faculty group associated with them apologized for the imagery.

Dr. Sadun’s resignation is the latest in a series of stumbles for Harvard’s efforts to address antisemitism on campus.

Last year, Dr. Gay set up an advisory committee to deal with antisemitism. On Dec. 5, she testified before a congressional committee and gave legalistic answers when asked whether Harvard would punish students who called for the genocide of Jews.

Rabbi Wolpe’s resignation came two days later, and on Jan. 2, Dr. Gay resigned under pressure. Later that month, Alan M. Garber, who took over as Harvard’s interim president, created two new task forces, one on antisemitism and one on anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bias.

He appointed Dr. Sadun and Dr. Penslar as co-chairs of the task force on antisemitism. Dr. Sadun was seen as a counterweight to Dr. Penslar, a professor of Jewish history, who had faced protests.

“She was the one who was supposed to be the reassuring voice and leader on the task force,” Rabbi Zarchi said.

Dr. Penslar, who still leads the task force, did not help matters by minimizing the extent of antisemitism at Harvard in interviews given soon after his appointment. In an interview with The Boston Globe, he questioned how severe a problem antisemitism was on campus.

“It’s not a myth, but it’s been exaggerated,” Dr. Penslar was quoted as saying.

He said that even before Oct. 7, some Jewish students were “shunned” from “progressive political communities” over the students’ attachment to Israel. “Is that vicious antisemitism? No,” he told The Globe. “But it’s a form of social exclusion and social pressure.”

But his supporters note that he also told The Globe that Israel was “a state that has every right to exist.”

Even as it accepted Dr. Sadun’s resignation on Sunday, the university announced who the members of both task forces would be, and it named a law professor, Jared Ellias, to replace Dr. Sadun.

“Over the past five months, grief, anger and fear have taken a toll on members of our community as divisions on our campus have persisted,” Dr. Garber, the university’s interim president, said in the announcement. “We must do more to bridge the fissures.”

Alain Delaquérière contributed research.

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