Harvard looks to combat antisemitism, anti-Muslim bias after protests over war in Gaza

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — Two task forces charged with proposing ways to combat anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, and anti-Palestinian bias and antisemitism at Harvard University have delivered preliminary recommendations to the school's interim president Alan Garber.

The recommendations issued Wednesday focus on more than a dozen areas where the school can act quickly, officials said.

“We must strengthen our ties with a sustained commitment to engaging each other with tact, decency, and compassion," Garber wrote.

The recommendations follow a tough academic year for the university that ended with student protests over Harvard's response to Israel's war in Gaza.

While each task force reported hearing very different experiences from community members, some common themes emerged, including a perception that the university has fallen short of its stated values, specifically those that celebrate diversity while respecting differences.

“Intentional engagement with diversity is a very important skill that all our students should have, regardless of what school they attend. Not having those skills and the tools to engage has serious consequences for our world,” Ali Asani, co-chair of the Task Force on Combating Anti-Muslim, Anti-Arab, and Anti-Palestinian Bias, said in a statement.

Jared Ellias, co-chair of the Task Force on Combating Antisemitism, said Harvard has to appreciate its global ambitions mean it’s going to bring together “a gigantically different group of people where what they have in common is their excellence.”

He said teaching students doesn’t mean sugarcoating conflict among peers, instructors, and future colleagues, neighbors, and friends.

“I think we have to start being more intentional in saying that we aren’t going to agree with every idea that everybody has, and we’re not going to agree with every version of the world that people might want to create,” he said.

School officials said the recommendations emphasize the need to create a safe environment for community members in part by publicly denouncing the consequences of harassment, including doxxing — the publication or release of private information as an act of punishment or retaliation.

The task force also recommended a Harvard-wide audit of academic resources related to Islam, the Middle East, and Palestine studies, as well as Arab, Middle Eastern, and Islamic studies across the university’s faculties.

Many Muslim, Arab, Palestinian, and pro-Palestinian Harvard affiliates said they felt unsafe physically and in terms of their careers as students, faculty, and staff in expressing their opinions on the Israel-Palestine conflict, the report said.

Those involved in the task forces also asked the school to act against what they described as the derision, social exclusion, and hostility that Jewish, Israeli, and pro-Israel community members have experienced.

“Training for instructional staff and at student orientation programs must clarify the difference between a challenging classroom atmosphere, which is healthy and constructive, and a threatening one, which is toxic,” said Derek Penslar, co-chair of the Task Force on Combating Antisemitism.

The task force also called for greater antisemitism awareness training.

Another recommendation is that the school improve kosher and halal food options in the dining halls.

“All of our students deserve convenient access to tasty and nutritious food,” Penslar added. “So long as Harvard does not provide these forms of accommodation, it is signaling that religiously observant Jewish and Muslim students are not welcome here."

Harvard University announced the task forces in January as it struggled to manage its campus response to the Israel-Hamas war,

The formation of the task forces followed the resignation of Harvard president Claudine Gay, who faced a backlash over her congressional testimony on antisemitism as well as plagiarism accusations.

Some Jewish students filed a lawsuit against Harvard earlier this year, accusing the school of becoming “a bastion of rampant anti-Jewish hatred and harassment.”

Toward the end of the academic year, pro-Palestinian students and activists established encampments on university campuses around the country including at Harvard. At some campuses, police were called to dismantle those sites.

Protesters at Harvard voluntarily took down their tents last month after university officials agreed to discuss their questions about the endowment. Protesters remained at odds with the university after the school announced that 13 students who participated in a protest encampment would not be able to receive diplomas alongside their classmates.

At Harvard's commencement, hundreds of students in graduation robes walked out of Harvard Yard chanting “Free, free Palestine."