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Closing of Yale institute for antisemitism reflects continued polarization

It was recently announced that Yale University’s Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism (YIISA) will be closing up shop in July due to what  “was found in its routine faculty review to not have met its academic expectations,” says an official from Yale’s Public Affairs office.

YIISA is the first institute in the US dedicated solely to the research of global antisemitism, which includes research on anti-Zionism and anti-Israel manifestations.

According to the Jerusalem Post and the New York Post, Jewish groups are up in arms about the decision since they claim it is not due to academic considerations but rather political ones. They claim that it is acceptable to talk about Christian antisemitism, but politically incorrect to discuss Muslim antisemitism and that contemporary forms of antisemitism in the form of anti-Israelism or anti-Zionism are just too taboo. Indeed, the NYPost reported that PLO representatives in the US have complained the institute gives a home to “anti-Arab extremism.”

The Magnes Zionist blog has an excellent post about YIISA’s conference last year, which shows the scholarship to be one-sided (in a rightwing neocon direction) and the institute flawed by an ultra-Zionist agenda that compromises its academic integrity.

Anti-Defamation League Director Abraham Foxman stated that whatever the issues are, they should be looked into and worked out, instead of simply closing the whole place down. It seems the institute could have offered a real contribution to contemporary antisemitic research, but the decision to close it down shows how polarized and constrained academia is by politics when it comes to Israel-Palestine.

For example, when Im Tirtzu came out last summer with their witch-hunt campaign against universities in Israel who they found to be too “left” or “anti-Zionist,” I wrote an article in Haaretz (Hebrew) criticizing the university heads’ defensive reaction whereby they asserted their loyalty to Zionism. After the article came out I heard from some professors that shared the fact that in certain academic institutions around the world, they feel discriminated against for dealing in the study of antisemitism in the Arab world as it is not “in fashion” to discuss such matters. And I believe it.

Tackling the differences between antisemitism, anti-Zionism and anti-Israel perspectives is difficult and challenging on its own – even more so when dealing with the Arab world, whose conflict with the State of Israel is an integral part of their experience of what is Jewish.

All the more reason it is important and worty to insist on engaging in such research and include scholars from across the spectrum. One should not shy away from researching Muslim antisemitism – no matter how much you are against the occupation or support the Palestinian cause. But it cannot be that the only centers for the study are hijacked by rigid Zionist agendas. As the Magnes Zionist said:

I see the time coming, if it has not already come, when the study of anti-Semitism will not be taken seriously by scholars without a Zionist act to grind. And that, dear readers, is the nub of the problem. There is anti-Semitism around the globe, and there should be serious scholarship of it. And those scholars who are serious should refuse invitations to conferences that are so extraordinarily one-sided.

We have been seeing for years how the Arab-Israeli conflict has affected how Israel and Jewish studies is dealt with in classrooms of higher education (i.e. Joseph Massad case at Columbia). I think the goal should be to open up the dialogue and pluralize already existing departments, as opposed to having more and more departments sprouting everywhere, each with their own agenda obvious chip on their shoulder.

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    1. Ana

      There is a fine line between ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘freedom of inciting hatred’. You assume that this Institute belonged to the former, whereas it in fact belonged to the latter, as does the Zionist Crusader Foxman and his ilk, whom you brush with an aura of respectability which he does not deserve, given that he is a leading exponent of general vile anti Muslim racism and Zionism. Comparing this to the harassment of leftist Israeli academics is liking comparing apples and pears.

      Also, for those involved in academia, we are all well aware that research never takes place in a political vacuum. ‘Muslim anti-semitism’, as you call it, like ‘Muslim homophobia’, is always used as a stick with which to beat up those backward barbarians, implicitly justifying our right to continue to bomb, kill and dominate them(and this line of thinking is directly related to how to deal with those living in our midst, just look at the recent rise in European anti Muslim immigrant hysteria).

      Sorry, but this is a very naive article which overlooks issues of power and knowledge, and assumes that epistemology is devoid of ontology and larger political structural issues of colonialism, domination and imperial hegemony.

      Finally, you are wrong, research on so called ‘Arab anti-semitism’ (if this is what you mean by ‘Muslim’, since you casually conflate the two) has been taken up in a brilliant book by Gilbert Achcar which I highly recommend you read, ‘The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab Israeli War of Narratives’.

      Reply to Comment
    2. morbo

      Since when has one sided politics been a problem in academia?

      Is it only when it involves “itbach al yahud”?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Sylvia

      The fundamental problem with Israeli universities – Ben Gurion in particular but there are others – lies not in the fact that certain departments are almost entirely radical left but rather in that long-established friend-bring-friend hiring practice. This in turn leads to nepotism and scholarly mediocrity, where unfortunately the only way left to make a name for oneself is either to call for a boycott of one’s university or preach a one-state solution.
      I haven’t seen anything of note come out of there.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Sylvia

      I think that it is incorrect to refer to the treatment of Jews since the founding of Islam as “Muslim anti-semitism” since mistreatment has been directed against Christians and Polytheists as well. What the Copts in Egypt and Christians in Iraq are enduring at the moment is no different than the episodic pogroms against Jews throughout history, and in that perspective it certainly cannot be called “Muslim antisemitism”.
      But what I think they mean by “Muslim antisemitism” is that particular time in the mid-twentieth century when the Mufti of Jerusalem was trying to strike a deal with Hitler. Some people think it has led to the ensuing poogroms and the final expulsion of Jews from Arab-Muslim countries.
      I am totally against linking those events with nazism. I see absolutely no difference between the twentieth century and previous centuries -when there was no nazism and no Israel. Those Jews who could, have always moved elsewhere, those who couldn’t stayed to face stoically the next outburst. The difference is first the revolution in the means of transportation, countries opening to immigration, and Israel where even the very poor could go.
      So one way or the other, “Muslim antisemitism” is a misnomer.

      Reply to Comment
    5. David

      Good read. Thanks.
      Maybe it was better that they closed?! Maybe it would have been better to find a compromise since in most western nations there are institutes which specialize on anti-semitism research and usually do a good job.
      Had something similar on the left been closed down, all hell would have broken lose…..you can just see the headlines….
      Magnes Zionist is about as unbiased as the settlers.

      Reply to Comment
    6. max

      Ana, “…epistemology is devoid of ontology…” so many “academic” words to explain that given the amount of Libyan and Saudi money pouring into universities one can’t expect a politically-free academic environment.
      But the bottom line is obviously that in your opinion fixing the alleged problems is of no value, and the contribution of the Arab discourse to Antisemitism and the mix up between Israel and Judaism isn’t worth studying.

      Reply to Comment
    7. directrob

      From JPost:
      “The program was the first US-based institute to research global anti-Semitism, ranging from anti-Israel and anti-Zionism manifestations thereof to other forms of hatred expressed against Jews.”
      Mairav Zonszein:
      “Tackling the differences between antisemitism, anti-Zionism and anti-Israel perspectives is difficult and challenging on its own …”
      You are slightly more subtle than the Jerusalem Post but is this is what the institute was about it does not to deserve to be part of Yale.
      But see their website:
      Apart from the incredible bad quality of some of the publications it is also clear that most authors cannot differentiate between the three. (see for example Irwin Cotler and David Hirsh ). The general message is that anti-Israel, anti-only-Jewish-Israel and anti-Zionism is equal to antisemitism.
      I must disagree with your header “Closing of Yale institute for antisemitism reflects continued polarization”. The closing of this institute reflects depolarization.

      Reply to Comment
    8. max

      directrob about Irwin Cotler, Member of Canadian Parliament; Former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada; Professor of Law, McGill University: “incredible bad quality of [some of] the publication[s]”
      Live & learn!

      Reply to Comment
    9. directrob

      The problem is that Irwin Cotler is not writing about law or politics. He is a man on a mission. He is defending Israel. He is writing an article that must prove that antisemitism is on the rise and that it is directed towards the state Israel.
      What he actually means is that criticism of the Israeli state is on the rise. By calling criticism of the Israeli state, legitimizing the Israeli state, criticism of Zionism, calling Zionism racist and genuine racism towards Jews all antisemitism he is not being scientific. He is writing propaganda.

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    10. max

      Directrob, Yale didn’t discredit the authors and their work as you do. They claim that the subject didn’t fulfill its “academic expectations” of top tier publications and student enrollment.
      And you’re simplifying the studies and losing their reasoning…
      Cotler’s view is indeed, as the quote he brings from Thomas Friedman that singling out Israel is anti-Semitic; Martin Luther King Jr. expressed a similar view.
      But, he then goes on and shows how prevalent genocidal anti-Semitism is in some Muslim circles and in the general discourse denying the Jewish people what is allowed to others.
      He clearly states that criticizing Israel is legitimate, but criticizing its legitimacy is anti-Semitic; he further shows how similar the patterns and methods of “old” and “new” anti-Semitism are.
      And he clearly relates this issues with Law and Politics.
      The simple point is that Yale needs Arab money and access to Arab countries; it prefers to reverse the Iranian boycott to studies of “controversial” topics, and prefers meetings with Ahmadinejad to seminars about new forms of anti-Semitism.
      And on the topic itself: it’s ludicrous to pretend that in a huge number of cases, anti-Zionism (not just anti-occupation) and anti-Semitism don’t walk hand in hand.

      Reply to Comment
    11. directrob

      I was blissfully ignorant about YIISA so before commenting I decided to read/skim over those articles. I think they are lacking quality and are politically motivated (and I do not think the Jonathan Judaken article is much better).
      Instead of continuing the debate myself I think it is better left to experts such as Antony Lerman and Jerry Haber …

      Reply to Comment
    12. max

      directrob, you have all the rights in the world to accept at face value what Mr. Lerman writes. It’s quite obvious that your view was pre-set – you agree to have only skimmed the papers (to take and post what you found fitting).
      I can’t judge the quality of their work – I accept at face value what Yale announced and don’t take a side in the “professional” debate.
      Chances are, however, that when I read Mr. Lerman claim that
      “… and claimed that the political class in contemporary Britain had abandoned the Jews”
      can’t be understood as equivalent to
      “Britain’s current “political class” or previous government was anti-Jewish or anti-Israel.’”
      I may deduct that his reasoning is questionable.

      Reply to Comment
    13. max

      Directrob, what’s more fundamental is what I wrote earlier: claiming that the PLO charter and even more so Hamas’; having a Holocaust “reducer” at the head of the PA, and the pogroms in Arab countries and by Arabs in European countries because of Israel isn’t anti-Semitism masqueraded as anti-Israel is just ludicrous.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Moshe

      Just for the record and since the Mufti was mentioned. The lines between anti-antisemitism and anti-Israel/anti-zionisim are very fine. You can debate the granular details of what is classical anti-antisemitism in the Arab/Islamic world and what is anti-Israel but its a moot point. General (Islamic/Arab) anti-Israel or anti-Zionist expressions have their roots in late 19th and early 20th century as well as typical Nazi anti-antisemitism. Make no mistake about it when they shout ibtach el yahud at a rally in Egypt, Syria or Lebanon they mean Jews! Israel is the “local” representative of the Jews in the middle east, but of course not all Jews are Israeli and not all Israeli’s are Jews. And while the barbaric bombings and attacks here in Israel can be attributed to the ongoing conflict. There have been many Islamic/Arab terrorist attacks against Synagogues and Jewish centers and gathering places throughout the world and that can only reflect one thing, Jew hatred!

      Reply to Comment