Anti-Semitism program disbanded at Yale

Yale University's Branford College and Harkness Clock Tower
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Yale will soon disband its scholarly anti-Semitism program. This happened because Jews are divided, but Muslims are not.

The Yale anti-Semitism program

In 2006, Yale University founded the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism (YIISA). It was the first program of its kind, and still the only one. Charles Small, who also founded the Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy, directed. YIISA ran a series of seminars on the subject, beginning in the fall of 2006.

But perhaps its two most prominent events are the problem. On December 1, 2008, Small had a public conversation at 92 Y Street in New York City with Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal. The subject: “Radical Islam and the Nuclear Bomb.” The specific subject: Iran’s nuclear program in the context of the off-the-wall statements by its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

And in August of 2010, YIISA held its first conference, titled “Global Antisemitism: A Crisis of Modernity.” By this account, the conference focused on Muslim anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiment.

Last week, Yale announced that YIISA had failed its five-year review of faculty membership and publications. In short, it failed the “publish or perish” test. But that claim is highly dubious, and many observers say that the decision to close the program is political.

Full disclosure

Yale Graduate School. Yale recently disbanded its anti-Semitism initiative.

The Yale Graduate and Professional School. Photo: Alan Jones, PHD. CC BY-SA 2.0 Generic License.

Your editor graduated from Yale College in 1980. Back then, Yale might expel a student for singing Horst Wessel Lied where others could hear him, or even setting other lyrics to that tune. Also, “anti-Semitism” meant being Christian, or being conservative. Most American Jews in the 1970s and 1980s were liberal. That was definitely true at Yale, and at other Ivy League schools.

Re-evaluation

An old proverb says,

A conservative is a liberal who got mugged.

The “mugging” of Jews in America, and in Israel, began during the First Iraqi-American War of 1990. Saddam Hussein fired several braces of SCUD missiles at Jerusalem, until the US Air Force finally found all his mobile missile launchers and blew them up. Israelis built “sealed rooms” in their houses and retreated to them often. The head of CNN’s Jerusalem Bureau once broke off from a broadcast to don a gas mask during an incoming-missile alarm. CBS reporter Bob Simon fell into Iraqi hands during the conflict, and told this story:

At one point, one of my interrogators jerked me to my feet, grabbed my head in both hands, and yelled, “Yehudah! Yehudah!” Which means, “Jewish.”

Images like that stick in people’s minds. American Jews began to re-evaluate their assessment of the Christians who, as they saw it, ran the United States.

This would take time. Abraham Foxman of the Anti-defamation League wrote a report titled Y2K and Paranoia, toward the end of the last century. He was afraid that if the computer-driven systems of the world crashed because they misread “00” for 1900 instead of 2000, “Aryan militias” might take advantage of the situation. The FBI cribbed from Foxman’s report for their own report warning police department to watch out for that sort of thing. But “Y2K” came and went without a hitch, and everyone forgot about these two reports.

Then came the Manhattan Incident of September 11, 2001. And a new kind of anti-Semitism rose up. To this day, some people actually say that Israel’s Mossad (their CIA) laid on the attack, and somehow told all the Jews to stay home that day. (Some Jews died that day, and all evidence points to Al-Qa’ida and only Al-Qa’ida.)

Inevitably, someone would start listening to, and reporting, what Arabs said to one another, as well as what they said to non-Arabs. A former chief of intelligence staff for the Tzahal founded the Middle East Media Research Institute in February of 1998. The Manhattan Incident probably caused many people to pay attention to MEMRI who hadn’t before. And MEMRI’s material is sometimes explosive. It covers everything from Friday sermons to the content of lower- and middle-school lesson plans in Arab and “Palestinian” schools. Some of the most virulent anti-Semitism since Mein Kampf turns out to come from Arab sources.

This is the background for the founding of YIISA. When your editor was at Yale, nothing like YIISA existed. That anyone at Yale would feel the need to study anti-Semitism in such depth is remarkable in itself. And now Yale will shut the program down.

Reaction to the shutdown

Different Jewish reacted differently to the shutdown. Even Abraham Foxman, who has always been a liberal, didn’t like the shutdown. The Jerusalem Post and the independent site +972 both quote Foxman as saying that Yale should have “looked into and worked out” any alleged problems at YIISA before closing it. The American Jewish Committee urged Yale to reconsider. Scholars for Peace in the Middle East said that Yale’s act was a blow to academic freedom, according to the Jewish Journal site. Kenneth Marcus of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research, said that YIISA was an excellent program, and the shutdown could not be for good academic reasons.

Through these accounts, and others in The New York Post and The Jerusalem Post, a pattern becomes clear. Last year, the PLO protested YIISA’s conference and fall seminars, accusing them of “racist propaganda.” And Iran cut off all academic ties to Yale and 59 other institutions in 2010. The affected Yale professors blamed YIISA for their troubles. More broadly, YIISA highlighted Arab anti-Semitism, and that was “politically incorrect.”

But not all Jewish groups seem opposed. At least one thought that “ultra-Zionists” “hijacked” YIISA and turned it away from looking at “traditional” sources of anti-Semitism—meaning Christianity.

What does it mean?

It means that Jews are split between left and right. Where the split comes down, no reliable pollster has yet found out. Perhaps America still has mostly liberal Jews, because most of the conservative Jews have “made Aaliyah” (that is, moved to Israel) by now. (But not all!) That split allowed Muslims, who are not split, to get Yale to shut the program down without having their fingerprints on the shutdown. Or so they thought. Because another proverb says,

Seek whom the crime will profit.

The funds for YIISA came from Jewish donors outside Yale. Caroline Glick of The Jerusalem Post urged them to stop trying to fund such institutes at any university. Instead, they should fund them only at places that have shown themselves friendly to Jews and to Israel.

For now, the YIISA site is still active. That won’t last. YIISA still has active user channels at YouTube and Vimeo, and still has this video archive. Will another institute study anti-Semitism as effectively as YIISA has done? Only time will tell.

Featured image: Yale University’s Branford Residential College. The William Harkness Memorial Clock Tower rises to the right. Photo: Alan Jones, PhD. CC BY-SA 2.0 Generic License.