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Anti-Semitism and Man at Yale

The modern university is no longer made up simply of departments and regular professors teaching students. Ancillary centers, programs, and initiatives proliferate, undertaking research on every conceivable topic and, in exchange for use of the university's name, bringing in prestige, money, and the occasional celebrity. The fates of such entities rarely make the New York Post. But anti-Semitism is not a normal subject.

Relevant Links
Some of Our Best Friends Are Jews  Ben Cohen, Pajamas Media. To an inquiry about the termination of YIISA, a Yale spokesman responded by protesting that the university “has long been a leader in Judaic research, teaching, and collections.”
Some Day, Yale's Prince Will Come  Martin Kramer, Sandbox. What prompted Yale’s administration to intervene and force changes in a scholarly book on the Danish-cartoon controversy?

Just how abnormal a subject it is, and how volatile its study can be, has come to public attention with Yale University's termination of the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA) after five years of successful operation. Led by the sociologist Charles Small, YIISA was the largest research unit in North America devoted to examining an issue of great antiquity and urgent contemporary significance. Its mission was defined clearly: "to explore this subject matter in a comprehensive, interdisciplinary framework from an array of approaches and perspectives as well as regional contexts."

Pursuant to that mission, YIISA annually assembled groups of scholars for seminars and conferences and published a series of studies. The scholars attached  to the initiative included such figures as David Hirsh of Goldsmiths College in London, Irwin Cotler, the former Canadian attorney general, and Bassam Tibi, professor emeritus of international relations at the University of Goettingen. Dozens of other well-credentialed academics participated in YIISA seminars, with interns, graduate fellows, and Yale faculty members helping to realize the enterprise's promise of becoming a "vibrant space" for scholarship, discussion, and debate.

But "initiatives" are fragile things, and this one, evidently, initiated more than its host had bargained for. At a 2010 conference titled "Global Antisemitism: A Crisis of Modernity," experts from around the world gathered to deliberate the most dangerous global form of contemporary anti-Semitism, namely, the Muslim variety. Dangerous in more ways than one: the event's discussions provoked the ire of some Yale faculty and students, as well as representatives of the official Muslim world; the ire evidently caused institutional discomfiture; and YIISA's fate was sealed.

No doubt other considerations went into Yale's decision to shut down this enterprise; it is difficult to know for sure. But the finality of the move, and the evasive rationales advanced for it, suggest a desire to dodge the issue. After all, universities rarely admit mistakes and even more rarely correct them. More typical are bureaucratic fixes: downgrading "programs" to "projects," moving units to smaller office spaces (the academic equivalent of Siberia), or, in truly bad situations, replacing leaders and putting units in receivership. Why pull the plug so completely?

In the event, Yale's stated reasons for terminating YIISA omit any mention of the 2010 conference or its subject matter. The university's director of  strategic communications, according to Abby Wisse Schachter who broke the story in the New York Post, asserted that the decision was made on the basis of YIISA's failure to "serve the research and teaching interests of some significant Yale faculty and  .  .  . [to] be sustained by the creative energy of a critical mass of Yale faculty." Unspecified were the interests that were not being served or sustained, let alone the nature of the alleged failure.

To counter criticism of its action, Yale dribbled out a few additional statements. To Donald Green, the director of the institute where YIISA was housed, the problem lay both in YIISA's professional standards and in its non-popularity: "Little scholarly work appeared in top-tier journals in behavioral science, comparative politics, or history. Courses created in this area did not attract large numbers of students."

It may indeed be that course enrollments were low, but so are enrollments in any number of areas that universities deem worthy of study. In any case, such numbers are of little relevance to an entity like YIISA, which was by definition a research and not a teaching unit, and which held numerous events attracting public attention and open to the entire Yale community.

As far as publications are concerned, YIISA, just like similar centers and programs at Yale, published its own highly regarded monograph series that made its scholars' work freely available for download. Since when is the wide dissemination of scholarly products no longer an important academic goal?  Nor is Yale known for applying the "top-tier" criterion across the board. The Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, for example, is a center-Left policy group currently directed by the former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo. It attracts wealthy and powerful speakers, some of whom are or may become Yale donors, and releases its reports and findings not in so-called "top-tier journals" but in various house-branded forms. It is hardly unique in this.

But the pious invocation of "top-tier" academic journals with their hoary review processes is itself specious. Offering a comparison with YIISA's record in this respect, Green touted the "extraordinary number" of articles in such journals produced by yet another Yale research "initiative." This is the Field Experiments Initiative, dedicated to "randomized studies of voter mobilization, peer counseling of homeless people, campaign activities in Africa, and the persuasiveness of televised campaign advertisements." The fact that the jargon-laden study of campaign advertisements yields more placements in academic journals than do analyses of anti-Semitism speaks dreary volumes about the gatekeepers of so much of contemporary scholarship, about the subjects they consider respectable, and about the standards of judgment they apply.

And here we return to the unspoken nub of the matter. At its 2010 conference, YIISA dared to tackle, openly, the single deadliest form of contemporary anti-Semitism, bringing together for this purpose a bevy of "top-tier" scholars from around the world. It was, clearly, the very holding of such an event that raised hackles from within and without. One response came from Maen Rashid Areikat, the Washington representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization: "It's shocking that a respected institution like Yale would give a platform to these right-wing extremists and their odious views. . . . I urge you to publicly dissociate yourself and Yale University from the anti-Arab extremism and hate-mongering that were on display during this conference."

This, from an operative of a group whose very name is soaked with the blood of murdered Jews and whose doctrines have poisoned the minds and disfigured the passions of whole generations, including in centers of elite Western opinion. Asked about the possible influence of responses like Areikat's in its decision to terminate YIISA, a Yale spokesman huffed that the university "doesn't make decisions about individual programs . . . based on outside criticism." Maybe so. But it would be naïve to suppose that Yale is anything less than super-sensitive to its institutional self-interest in a part of the world whose favor it may wish to court—and the all too palpable consequences of whose wrath it seeks to avoid.

It is well known, for instance, that Yale has long been seeking support from wealthy Arab donors. In particular, it has wooed Saudi Prince Alwaleed ibn Talal, who in 2005 gave $20 million apiece to Harvard and Georgetown for Islamic-studies programs. (Yale, which competed vigorously for the prize, made it to the final round.) True to their donors' intent, such academic programs are faithful disseminators of the "narrative" of Muslim victimization. In the same connection, it should likewise be borne in mind that in 2009, alerted to the imminent publication by its own press of a scholarly book on the Danish-cartoons controversy, the Yale administration summarily intervened to yank images of the cartoons from the final producton the grounds that their appearance might elicit "violence."

That craven decision was made, allegedly, on the advice of experts gathered for the task, a number of them on the Yale faculty. The same or similar experts, one imagines, now constitute the unnamed "critical mass" whose "research and teaching interests" YIISA is condemned for having failed to serve. Among them, no doubt, are Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, formerly of the State Department and National Security Council and now senior fellows of Yale's Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. The Leveretts, strong defenders of the Iranian (and Syrian) regimes, famously charged the George W. Bush administration with ignoring crucial opportunities to negotiate with the mullahs of Tehran, and have criticized the Obama administration on the same grounds. In 2009, Hillary Mann Leverett took her graduate students to New York to meet with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the United Nations; reportedly, he enlightened them on the absence of proof for the Holocaust.

There is no need to impute a conspiracy here; it suffices to recognize a confluence of factorsand a mindset. Exactly 60 years ago, the young William F. Buckley, Jr., in God and Man at Yale, published a withering critique of, in the words of a recent appraisal, "the intolerance of the academy toward unfashionable concepts, . . . the stultifying effects of elitist groupthink on thought, and . . . the failure of the university to engage a wide range of ideas fairly and in simple good faith." At the time, the particular issue salient in Buckley's mind was the academy's refusal to engage the subject of God and man. Today, it is the refusal to engage the global campaign to defame, de-legitimate, and demonize the Jewish people. As the fact of anti-Semitism grows, including on some North American campuses, one large, serious academic effort to study anti-Semitism has been shut down. 

Alex Joffe is a research scholar with the Institute for Jewish and Community Research.


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Paul Marks on June 13, 2011 at 7:54 am (Reply)
The elite universities offer students (via networking and the snob value of their qualifications) the chance to walk into a good job.

But it that worth a young person's soul?

Some serious thought is required.
Ellen on June 13, 2011 at 7:58 am (Reply)
Thanks for the interesting piece, Mr. Joffe. Judging the academic level of academic scholarship is a tricky business and this issue has become a front behind which the defenders of political correctness masquerading as scholarship have long hid.

Cornell West, the Afro-American Studies "scholar" stomped out of Harvard several years ago because Larry Summers had the courage to criticize him for the trashy level of his supposed academic research. Putting out rap music isn't exactly the task that Harvard Professors are being paid for. He had no problem, though, finding another prestigious perch at Princeton University, where his nonsense is considered mandatory for undergraduates looking to learn something "relevant" about the world we live in.

Edward Said politicized and trashed the Modern Language Association and other organizations devoted to the study of the humanities at our universities, turning the whole endeavor into the politically correct swamp that makes parents wonder why all this crap is worth $50,000 a year in tuition.

Yale is following in these footsteps. They should be condemned and forced to pay in price in reduced Jewish support, just as Columbia was when they had their MidEast Studies scandal 5 years ago.
aspacia on June 13, 2011 at 8:07 am (Reply)
Typical, albeit I was lucky when attending a small private university. My professors offered a wide range of ideas and often play devil's advocate against their own communist beliefs.

It appears that the Ivy League has sold its soul for black gold, and is poisoning young minds. These young minds age, and often decide to be teachers in the k-12 system. Frankly, they only know pedagogy, and not their discipline or any ability to debate.

Jacques Gottlieb on June 13, 2011 at 10:11 am (Reply)
Aren't there wealthy Jewish donors who can make and maintain an academic center for the serious and ongoing study of anti-Semitism? I am not sure that the lack of money should be the reason for not having such a center. Rather, it is the failure to recognize the importance of the subject, as it is the failure to make known to the world the self defence actions of the Israeli government and IDF. J. Gottlieb
Michael Smith on June 13, 2011 at 10:56 am (Reply)
Great article!

Are there reasons beyond the ones being given by Yale as to why the Yale Initiative for the interdisciplinary study of anti-Semitism (YIISA) is being shut-down? There was another good article on the topic at The Political Commentator called Money and fear makes the academic world go 'round? Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism (YIISA) to be closed!

The link to it is
david minkin on June 13, 2011 at 3:36 pm (Reply)
There may be a problem with the termination of the Yale Interdisciplinary Initiative for the Study of Antisemitism. But Alex Joffe's article doesn't add at all to any understanding of the issues involved or the reasons for Yale's decision. Rather he engages in a lot of conjecture, and he sarcastically characterizes Yale's responses ("To counter criticism of its action, Yale dribbled out a few additional statements... [A] Yale spokesman huffed that the university "doesn't make decisions about individual programs . . . based on outside criticism.") In other words, Mr. Joffe offers nothing of substance to assist us in understanding the issues involved. This is an article that JTA should not have published, and it doesn't reflect well on the Institute for Jewish and Community Research.
Gabe Asher on June 13, 2011 at 11:28 pm (Reply)
There never has been, nor will there ever be a rational reason for anti-semitism except for the existence of evil.
Eugene M. Kravis on June 14, 2011 at 2:25 am (Reply)
Every one should read Leon Poliakov's History of Antisemitism in 4 volumes. Itis out of print, but can be found in some large libraries.
Charles J. Shields on June 14, 2011 at 8:48 am (Reply)
The tip-off is in the title of the symposium. Hardly in the spirit of genuine intellectual inquiry.
Hmmm, dubious on June 14, 2011 at 11:17 am (Reply)
This piece gets to the nub of the matter, but I'm not sure the conclusions are correct.

If it's about donations, pure and simple, ask yourself a question. Is Yale more likely to get big money from Jewish donors or from Arab/Muslim ones?

The question laughably answers itself. Jewish money is worth much, much more than Arab or Muslim money. Twenty million bucks earmarked for Muslim studies is a drop in the bucket compared to donations that Jewish patrons have made (whether earmarked or unrestricted).

So it's worth wondering whether Yale might have been serious, and decided that this program really was not up to snuff academically.
Christopher Larkin on June 15, 2011 at 12:50 pm (Reply)
It's appalling that the author is criticized. I mean, it really happened, right ? Maybe he should just stand for it quietly ?

Can we come up with a more precise term ? Judeogyny or Hebragyny ? As Semites include Arabs, Ethiopians and many others, let's not risk any of our argument's steam with what has become a lazy buzzword. Even Farrakhan the Charmer holds the high rhetorical ground when he tells his accusers, "You are wrong. I am not an anti-Semite."
aspacia on June 16, 2011 at 12:30 pm (Reply)
Wonderful, precise words: Judeogyny and Hebragyny -- how about Ziongyny.
Mervyn Doobov on June 27, 2011 at 4:41 am (Reply)
Not exactly so precise, and certainly not appropriate. The 'gyny' suffix comes from the Greek 'gyne', which means 'woman'.
aspacia on June 28, 2011 at 2:54 pm (Reply)
Mervyn, you are correct. Another blogger called me on this:-) How about Judist? Hebrewist?

Barton on June 30, 2011 at 8:38 pm (Reply)
Whatever you call it Judeogyny or Hebragyny or even
Anti-Semitism it is rife in our world. This article is a minor statement of fact.
Philip Brieff on October 27, 2011 at 10:02 am (Reply)
During the 1930's, when most sane americans recognized the evil of Nazi Germany, Yale, Harvard, and Columbia insisted on maintaining cordial relations with the Nazis. While many in America were boycotting Germany, they insisted on keeping normal relations because they claimed they were not political and crap about free speech. They were anti-semitic, as the papers of their then-presidents revealed after they passed away.
frosty7530 on December 29, 2011 at 9:40 am (Reply)
I thank Jewish Ideas Daily for printing this piece. It is one of best I have seen on anti-Semitism in the past year. I was especially gratified by the following commentators: Ellen, Paul Marks, Aspacia, Jacques Gottlieb, and Michael Smith, who wrote so eloquently and from the heart about what this article means to them as individuals, as well as the entire Jewish commnity in the United States and globally.

I especially liked Ellen's comment. The late Dr. Said of Columbia University still haunts the halls of academia. As a former Democrat, I am blown away by the nightmare that PC is causing. I've always seen language and propaganda as powerful tools for social change; but the creators of PC, and their followers, have taken censorship to a whole new level. Our freedom of speech has truly been compromised as a result of this.

My thanks to Jewish Ideas Daily and the above-mentioned. May you all have a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year in 2012.

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