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Harvard Task Forces Find Climate of Bias for Both Jewish and Muslim Groups

Harvard’s task forces on antisemitism and anti-Muslim bias each found a climate of discrimination and harassment on campus, writing in preliminary reports released on Wednesday that the situation for pro-Israel students was “dire” and that pro-Palestinian students were being suppressed.

The antisemitism task force cited reports of teaching fellows discriminating against or harassing students because they were Israeli or pro-Israel. It added that there was an ideological “litmus test” for extracurricular activities that made it impossible for some students to participate.

The task force called for a variety of measures, including anti-harassment training for all students, discussions of antisemitism and anti-Israeli bias, and accommodations for those who observe Jewish holidays, to improve the quality of life for Jewish students on campus.

On the other hand, the investigation into anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bias on campus found that the freedom of expression of Palestinian and pro-Palestinian students had been broadly suppressed, leaving them in “a state of uncertainty, abandonment, threat and isolation” and in “a pervasive climate of intolerance.” The report said that many students felt the words “Palestine” and “Palestinian” had become taboo on campus.

Among other recommendations, the task force urged the school to appoint a visiting professor in Palestinian studies, and, in the long run, recruit tenure-track faculty members to expand the school’s curriculum related to Palestinian studies. It also recommended that the university clarify policies around bullying and bias.

The preliminary reports come after a school year in which concerns have grown about antisemitism and Islamophobia at Harvard and other universities. Last week, Stanford released reports from its own task forces, which found pervasive antisemitism and suppression of pro-Palestinian speech on its campus.

Republican lawmakers and donors have been especially vocal in pressuring Harvard to address antisemitism since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

Such pressure, as well as a theatric grilling from the Republican-led House Committee on Education and the Workforce in December, contributed to the resignation of Harvard’s president, Claudine Gay, after she gave vague, legalistic answers to whether a call for genocide on campus would be considered antisemitic.

In a scathing letter in May, Virginia Foxx, the committee chair, accused Harvard of ignoring the recommendations of an advisory committee on antisemitism (which was later dismantled and replaced by the task force). Harvard said that Dr. Foxx was cherry-picking evidence to arrive at inaccurate conclusions.

Pro-Palestinian protests and encampments have gripped campuses, including Harvard’s, over the past year, putting universities in awkward positions as they try to balance free speech rights and campus safety.

Jewish groups have said that incidents of antisemitism were rampant during these protests, while Muslim groups asserted that their free speech was stifled when universities cracked down on demonstrations.

The report from Harvard’s antisemitism task force did not go into much detail on specific incidents. But a Harvard Divinity School student, Shabbos Kestenbaum, testified at a public House hearing in February that his classmates had posted on an anonymous social media app that “too many damn Jews live in this country.”

Mr. Kestenbaum, who graduated this spring and has accused the university in a lawsuit of being “a bastion” of hatred against Jews, said on Wednesday that the antisemitism report was not tough enough.

“The most substantive policy change is ‘pork products should be clearly marked,’” he said, referring to the recommendation that Harvard serve more hot kosher meals and identify dishes with pork in dining halls.

The report on Islamophobia was also somewhat generic but did include accounts of students with hijabs or kaffiyehs being called “terrorists.”

It also mentioned pro-Palestinian students being doxxed, meaning that their private information was revealed. In one such instance, students associated with organizations that signed a letter holding Israel responsible for the Oct. 7 attack had their names and faces displayed on trucks that drove around campus, operated by an outside conservative group called Accuracy in Media.

The task force called for more dedicated spaces for prayer and communal gatherings, more recognition of Muslim holidays and religious instruction during orientation. “Religious illiteracy needs to be addressed as it is a significant factor contributing to stereotypes and prejudices,” the report said.

Neither report addressed the dispute over whether anti-Zionism is a form of antisemitism, which Abed A. Ayoub, national executive director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said was a significant oversight.

“All this comes off of efforts to change the definition of antisemitism,” he said. “There is hostility toward anti-Zionist groups; that’s not to be underestimated.”

Mr. Kestenbaum also said he was disappointed that the antisemitism report did not include a definition of antisemitism.

In an email releasing the reports, Alan Garber, Harvard’s interim president, urged his campus to engage “each other with tact, decency and compassion.” He added, “Our learning cannot be limited to purely academic pursuits if we hope to fulfill our responsibilities to one another and to the institution that is our intellectual home.”

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