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Yale's Antisemitism Problem

YIISA was the first institution of its kind, the first university based center for research on antisemitism in North America. Isn’t this astonishing? Let’s just take the last 10 years, since the “second Intifada” in September 2000 and since the horror of 9/11. Why did no full-time professor and no university, whether Ivy League or other, whether in New York City, Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago, or Dallas, establish a center especially and exclusively dedicated to the scholarly analysis of antisemitism, of new antisemitism, left-wing, progressive (Jewish and non-Jewish), Muslim, Arabic, right-wing extremist, mainstream media, and other forms of (anti-Zionist) antisemitism?

Finally Canadian sociologist Dr. Small, who originally specialized in urban planning before taking up the analysis of new antisemitism, came to Yale to head the new YIISA. He had the idea, the resources, and the network of scholars, donors, and Yale people who supported and embraced his idea of YIISA, among them William Prusoff and Allon Canaan.

Now YIISA is gone. And some scholars, most notably historian Deborah Lipstadt in an article titled “How to Study Antisemitism” in the Forward, are blaming YIISA instead of Yale.  Her article surprised many scholars on antisemitism, as well as people in the pro-Israel tent.

While pretending to be against all forms of antisemitism, Lipstadt is apparently even more profoundly against “advocacy.” She denounces Charles Small for being an advocate, not a scholar.

British anti-Zionist Anthony Lerman, though, is happy about Deborah Lipstadt’s criticism of YIISA. He embraces her because she attacks YIISA as “advocacy.”

Why did Yale close YIISA? On September 3, 2010, the JTA reported criticisms and resentments from Arab sources about the large YIISA conference held in August 2010:

The PLO envoy to Washington said that a conference on anti-Semitism at Yale University "demonized Arabs."

In an Aug. 30 letter to the university's president, Richard Levin, Ma'en Areikat cited the Aug. 23-25 inaugural conference of the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism. The conference was titled ‘Global Antisemitism: A Crisis of Modernity.’ Said Areikat:

As Palestinians, we strongly support principles of academic freedom and free speech, however racist propaganda masquerading as scholarship does not fall into this category.

Don Filer, the director of Yale's Office of International Affairs, wrote back to say that Yale does not censor academics, the Yale Daily News reported.

In his letter Areikat cited three lectures and scholars out of more than 100 at a conference that included sessions not only on antisemitism in the Islamic world but among feminists, in the Christian world, and among Jews. Scholars came from 18 countries and leading educational institutions, and included pre-eminent experts in their fields -- such as Deborah Lipstadt.

Areikat singled out for criticism Itamar Marcus, who directs Palestinian Media Watch. Marcus delivered a keynote lecture titled "The Central Role of Palestinian Anti-Semitism in Creating the Palestinian Identity."

What was Lipstadt’s response in June 2011, after Yale followed the advice of the PLO to kill YIISA? It is interesting how she deals with scholarship at Yale:

According to sources at Yale, the university’s leadership unsuccessfully worked with YIISA in an attempt to rectify some of these issues. Part of Yale’s discomfort might have come from the fact that a Yale-based scholarly entity was administered by an individual who, while a successful institution builder, was not a Yale faculty member and who had no official position at the university. Yale has indicated that it is intent on axing YIISA and replacing it with an initiative that will address both anti-Semitism and its scholarly concerns.

What are the facts? Dr. Small talked to me and told me about his career. He is astonished that Lipstadt, whom he had invited to YIISA several times, did not talk to him before reporting about him.

Dr. Small’s participation in the program of the Yale Institution for Social and Policy Studies and his teaching in its program in Ethics, Politics, and Economics apparently does not count for her. Dr. Small also runs programs for undergraduates and graduates, as well as a Post-Doctoral program.

I told Dr. Lipstadt about my research and she wrote that she clearly sees my “excellent” work. However, she did not respond to my inquiry as to why she attacked Charles Small and YIISA for having moved from scholarship to advocacy.

Dr. Lipstadt makes accusations of advocacy without discussing the high-profile scholarly results of YIISA. YIISA held five conferences, not including its huge conference with over 100 presentations in August 2010.

Most importantly, YIISA organized and hosted, from Fall 2005 until Spring 2011, some 118 events in its seminar series Antisemitism in Contemporary Perspective. The 118 events included 128 presentations.

I have told Lipstadt that I disagree with her piece, and have told her about the high-profile scholarship of YIISA. She responded:

At the same time, however, there was a strain of advocacy in many of the presentations and papers and this made even those who were supporters of YIISA uncomfortable. This gave fodder to YIISA’s critics and lead to Yale’s actions.

This is an interesting argument from a scholar of the Holocaust and the history of antisemitism.

She says that inappropriate activities -- advocacy (for Israel) -- led to “criticism,” like that from the PLO. This is a lie: the PLO promotes hatred of Israel, it is not a “critic.” The PLO cannot tolerate the scholarly analysis of Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim antisemitism. The analysis of antisemitism, like that of the PLO, clearly shows that their ideology and actions do not depend on what others do or not do.

Lipstadt does not mention the above-quoted letter from the PLO, which sparked the entire debate about the YIISA conference in August 2010 at Yale.

Contrary to that, the historian does not try to portray the real climate and scholarship at YIISA. Why did Lipstadt not mention a single one of these events at YIISA? Why is she not naming who was doing the allegedly inappropriate advocacy?