Yale's Antisemitism Problem

On June 19, Yale University announced the “Yale Program for the Study of Antisemitism“ (YPSA), with Maurice Samuels from the Department of French as its head. From Yale’s announcement:


I am hopeful that this program will produce major scholarship on the vitally important subject of antisemitism. Professor Samuels and his colleagues have Yale’s remarkable library resources at their disposal, including the Fortunoff Video Archives of Holocaust Testimonies and the 95,000-volume Judaica collection of the Yale Library.

I want to take this opportunity to thank you for your keen interest in the study of antisemitism at Yale. This is an exciting new beginning, and we all look forward to seeing the results.

Sincerely yours,

Peter Salovey


Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology

A Judaica collection has little to do with research on antisemitism, especially when it comes to the threats of 2011: genocidal threats from Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah.

Neither does 19th century literature. In 2004, Maurice Samuels published The Spectacular Past: Popular History and the Novel in Nineteenth-Century France. In it, he deals with a film from 1927 about Napoléon, and points to a snowball scene, which reminds him of the following:

One example is the famous snowball fight scene that opens the film, a version of which had been featured in Bonaparte à l’école de Brienne, ou le petit caporal, souvenirs de 1783, the Napoleon play starring Virginie Déjazet in 1830. Images of the snowball fight also appear in A.V. Arnault’s Vie politique et militaire de Napoléon (1822) and Laurent de l’Ardèche’s Histoire de l’empereur Napoléon (1839), two of the illustrated histories I discuss in chapter 2.

That’s fascinating and fine scholarship, just not the sort of work needed to address antisemitism in the contemporary world.

An antisemitism program needs scholars who deal with Qassam rockets, Grad rockets, and other rocket systems, not snowballs. Scholars who deal with satellite systems, and firebombs targeting Israeli civilians and tanks. Who study soldiers of Hamas, Hezbollah, and other antisemitic terror groups. It needs scholars who deal with Islamist thinkers, from Hasan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb to Mohammad Chatami, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s anti-Israel and pro-suicide-bombing fatwas.

It needs scholars who deal with the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamism — not only in Egypt, but in the entire Middle East, Europe, North America, and elsewhere. It needs scholars on Iran and the analysis of incitement to genocide.

It needs scholars on Turkey, lawful Islamism, and its relationship to anti-Zionism and antisemitism.

It needs scholars on Islamic jihad, terror, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and homegrown terrorism in the West.

It needs scholars on left-wing, progressive, Muslim, and Neo-Nazi anti-Zionist antisemitism, and the ideologies and concepts of postorientalism, postcolonialism, and their possible relationship to antisemitism (e.g., in the work of Edward Said). And it needs scholars on antisemitism and anti-Israel propaganda in Western mass media in the 21st century.

There is nothing wrong with scholarship on France and Jewish history; it is important. But it shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for serious scholarship on contemporary antisemitism. The study of dead antisemites and past campaigns of vilification is already part of every single Jewish Studies department in the world. And dealing with Jewish literature (the topic of Samuels’ new book in 2010) has nothing to do with research on (contemporary) antisemitism.

Early in June, Yale University decided to shut down the five-year-old Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA), and replace it with the Yale Program for the Study of Antisemitism described above, which has nothing in common with YIISA. Media has significantly reported about this decision, the public debate starting on June 6 with an article by Abby Wisse Schachter. Many journalists, organizations, and scholars joined the cause to keep YIISA, including the Zionist Organization of America, the American Jewish Committee, and the Anti Defamation League.


Professor Alvin Rosenfeld wrote an open letter to Yale, urging the university to keep YIISA. Professor, feminist, and bestselling author Phyllis Chesler wrote, shocked about the “Palestinianization and Stalinization of the American professoriate.” Caroline Glick advised donors to think twice about giving money to Yale in the future. Alex Joffe expressed his displeasure, as did Ben Cohen and Benjamin Weinthal.

Harvard professor and YIISA board member Alan Dershowitz said the following in an interview with David F. Nesenoff, a keynote speaker at YIISA’s August 2010 conference “Global Anti Semitism: A Crisis of Modernity”:

I think some of the blame lies not only with the Jewish faculty members but with pro-Israel faculty members who are too frightened to speak up because it makes them unpopular. You pay a price on campus today for being pro Israel. Even I pay a price for that.

Yale, in fact, has a long history of antisemitism. Dershowitz continued:

The slogan of Yale was urim v’tumim‘ [light and truth] in Hebrew. The joke was if you could read it, you can’t go there. The college had an overt quota system. I was not in the college. I couldn’t get into the college obviously. When I went to the law school there was overt antisemitism in the hiring process by law firms. And there were secret clubs that didn’t allow in Jews. That was 50 years ago. Yale has a terrible legacy of antisemitism, which should make it sensitive to the issue.

Historian Stephen H. Norwood’s The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower demonstrates that Yale and many other Ivy League universities were very much pro-German, and not at all anti-Nazi. Norwood writes:

Yale University and Vassar College German clubs invited Dr. Richard Sallet, attaché at the German embassy in Washington, to speak on campus about Hitler’s Germany. The Nazi-diplomat spoke informally on December 11 to Yale’s Germanic Club, which was composed of faculty members and graduate students, on “The New Foundation of the German Commonwealth.”

The PLO is — and Yasir Arafat was — influenced by Grand Mufti Mohammed Amin al-Husaini. Al-Husaini was a close ally of National Socialism, Hitler, and the Germans. He was actively involved in the Holocaust. Scholarship on antisemitism has dealt with al-Husaini in the last couple of years — one of the first brochures on the Grand Mufti, Italian fascists, and the Nazis was published as early as 1947 by Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal.

The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA) provided space for scholarship on such topics. Now, Yale University follows the advice of the PLO and stops scholarship on the Grand Mufti, the PLO, and Nazism. Yale fails to fight antisemitism in 2011 as it failed to do so in 1933. Norwood, one of the speakers at the YIISA seminar series in 2011, reports in his above-quoted book:

President James Rowland Angell of Yale University refused the request of Rabbi Edgar E. Siskin on March 27, 1933, at a community-wide mass meeting in New Haven called to voice “dismay and indignation at the anti-Semitic excesses now being carried out in Germany.” President Angell told Rabbi Siskin: “I greatly fear the unfavorable effect of public demonstrations.” Rabbi Siskin was deeply disappointed that President Angell declined his invitation and told him, “Your presence with us would have added greatly to the effect of our protest locally.”

In 1936 the Yale Athletic Board and the Yale Daily News supported Nazi Germany’s Olympic games, and rejected a boycott of this propaganda event in Berlin.


Today Alan Dershowitz blames Yale for the killing of YIISA, for good reason:

The university should have sought public input from faculty and other people. For example, I’m an alum; I’m a member of the Board of Advisors. I never got a phone call. I was never asked my views on this matter. I’ve spoken for them. You would think that the University might call me and others like me, or at least get our input. They didn’t.

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?

YIISA held lectures from the most distinguished scholars in the field of antisemitism, including Jeffrey Herf, Michael Walzer, Bassam Tibi, Stephen Norwood, Daniel Tsadik, Moishe Postone, Dovid Katz, Paul Lawrence Rose, Mordechai Kedar, Barry Rubin, David Menashri, Richard Landes, Kenneth Marcus, Gerald Steinberg, Ruth Wisse, Dina Porat, Alvin Rosenfeld, Benny Morris, and particularly Robert S. Wistrich.

If a program succeeds in bringing in the best scholars in the field, it is doing a good job.


Historian Lipstadt prefers rumor (“sources at Yale” told her about the unwillingness of YIISA to do real scholarship) instead of facts. Why didn’t she contact Dr. Small? Why didn’t she use a search on the internet? Even if she couldn’t find many publications of the director, she should have looked at publications on antisemitism published by fellows, post-docs, associate professors, and the guest speakers.

Without referring to Small’s career, Lipstadt says:

There is, however, another side to this story. Apparently, there were people on the Yale campus who were associated with YIISA and who were eager to have it succeed. These friends of YIISA counseled the institute’s leadership that some of its efforts had migrated to the world of advocacy from that of scholarship. They warned YIISA that it was providing fodder to the critics’ claim that it was not a truly academic endeavor.

I have twice participated in YIISA’s activities. I gave a paper at one of its weekly seminar sessions on Holocaust denial and attended its conference last August. While serious scholars who work in this field gave the vast majority of the papers — and not dilettantes who dabble in it — there were a few presentations that gave me pause. They were passionate and well argued. But they were not scholarly in nature.

But Lipstadt does not mention a single name.

Maybe she is also aiming at Itamar Marcus (“not scholarly in nature”), cited by the PLO. Maybe she has other “passionate,” though “not scholarly” presentations in mind, but we do not know because she is intentionally not offering them.

She ends her article for the Forward (and Engage from the UK republished her piece) with the following:

Second, this struggle also demonstrates the necessity of differentiating between those who do advocacy and those who do scholarship. Both are critical — but entirely different — endeavors. Let us not forget how rightfully disturbed the Jewish community has been in recent years about the way in which advocacy and polemics have permeated so many university courses on the Middle East. Too many students who take these classes find that they have entered a zone in which advocacy masquerades as scholarship. This is unacceptable, irrespective of the source from which it emanates.

Would Lipstadt also say that Women’s Studies, Black Studies, or postcolonial studies should stay away from advocacy? Does she believe that scholarship in these (very fashionable) fields is not “biased” pro- woman, pro-black, or pro-third world? If she ever has dealt with these programs, she would know that these programs, of course, are engaged in “advocacy.” So scholarship and advocacy are quite typical on campus in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Professor Philip Carl Salzman criticizes Lipstadt and Engage:

Much of the Humanities and Social Sciences is advocacy. This is obvious in such fields as “Women’s Studies,” “Black Studies,” and other fields of identity politics. But it is equally true in fields such as sociology, anthropology, “cultural studies,” communications, and other fields, in which advocating for the “sub-altern,” the “postcolonial,” and other favorites of the left is common. One only has to note that the dominant influence in many of the fields during the last decades is Edward Said, a professor of English literature who ventured into Middle East politics and the history and sociology of knowledge, with no expertise in either. No university administration ever complained about advocacy for Palestinians. But it is quite a different matter to advocate on behalf of politically incorrect Jews, ever worse to advocate for “Nazi” and “apartheid” Israel, and “racist” to suggest that there is such a things as Islamic antisemitism, which would be a blatant case of Islamophobia. The problem is not advocacy, as Lipstadt cluelessly suggests, but politically incorrect advocacy, or even politically incorrect scholarship. Let’s get real, folks.


Is Lipstadt really thinking there is too much pro-Israel advocacy in programs in Islamic or Middle Eastern Studies in the U.S.? Has she ever heard of pro-Arab, anti-Israel scholars such as John Esposito, Barbara Freyer-Stowasser, Khaled Abou El Fadl, Rashid Khalidi, Gil Anidjar, Ian Shapiro, and almost all other academics dealing with the Middle East and area studies? Being anti-Zionist and pro-Islamist is a door-opener in these fields. Everyone who mentions, let alone analyzes, Arab, Muslim, and Islamic antisemitism will be blocked.

Yale professor of political science Ian Shapiro, a close ally of ISPS head Donald Green, and the Yale MacMillan Center invited antisemite Judge Richard Goldstone in 2011.

Yale Senior Fellow Hillary Mann Leverett (“engagement, not pressure,” when it comes to Iran) embraces Holocaust denier, antisemite, and anti-American propagandist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. She and 13 students of her Yale class met officially with the Iranian criminal in September 2010 in New York City. This is, of course, not advocacy for Holocaust denial and antisemitism. This is tender “engagement.”

What does our Yale snowball expert and head of the newly established “Yale Program for the study of Antisemitism” (YPSA) say about such events?

And what says historian Deborah Lipstadt? She does not mention the history of antisemitism at Yale. She does not note today’s antisemitic events and “engagements” at Yale either. She misses the point, again. She is a good scholar when it comes to fighting Holocaust denial, soft-core denial and obfuscation or distortion of the Holocaust, or when it comes to remembering the Eichmann trial. I even use her term “soft-core” Holocaust denial, because this is quite an interesting terminology for the obfuscation, distortion, or denial of the unprecedented crime of the Shoah.

But on contemporary antisemitism, she is a newcomer. This is not a fault. It is a fault, though, to spread rumors about “passionate” but “inappropriate advocacy” at a YIISA conference. In effect, if not in intent, Lipstadt and her allies who republished her piece are supporting the anti-Zionist PLO, Islamism, and the entire postcolonialist, postorientalist agenda.

They approve scholarship on these topics, which are all pure advocacy for Palestinians, “the oppressed,” Muslims, etc., and blame the victim: Israel and the Jews. They blame those who dare to do scholarship on antisemitism while taking a clear stand for democracy, universal rights, America, and the Jewish state of Israel.

A scholar on antisemitism who believes that he or she is not doing advocacy for Jews is fooling him- or herself. A doctor who is looking for new medicine against cancer is doing advocacy — for mankind — as well as scholarship.

YIISA is the place which provided a space for high-profile scholarship on antisemitism. It was a diverse place, too. Several fellows followed poststructuralist and postcolonial attempts, while others tried to strengthen analysis of ideology, particularly criticism of anti-Zionist antisemitism among “minority groups” in the West, like left-wingers, Muslims, “peace” activists, etc. If anyone deals seriously with the history of YIISA, one finds totally different scholarly biographies.

However: not many places provided so many scholars from all over the world the opportunity to discuss their articles, books, working papers, lectures, pieces, and ideas about contemporary and other forms of antisemitism.

To attack YIISA by framing it as pure advocacy and not scholarship misrepresents reality, as this article proves.


We should go further to save YIISA, as Professor Walter Reich puts it in the Washington Post. He points to antisemitic students and organizations that may well be behind the decision (among others of course), and he points to the high-profile scholarship at YIISA and its involvement in the Yale faculty:

The conference [the above mentioned August 2010 YIISA conference] provoked a firestorm. A Syrian American law student published a broadside in the Yale Daily News attacking the institute and the conference as fueling “anti-Arab bigotry and Islamophobia.” The Palestine Liberation Organization’s representative to the United States wrote to Yale’s president accusing the conference of demonizing Arabs — “who are Semites themselves” — and urging him to dissociate himself and Yale from the conference’s “extremism and hate-mongering.” The Internet lit up with attacks on the institute and Yale.

Yale administrators and faculty quickly turned on the institute. It was accused of being too critical of Arab and Iranian anti-Semitism and of being racist and right-wing.

(…) The criticism was unfounded. The institute’s faculty governance committee includes 13 Yale faculty members. It has four faculty researchers; a faculty advisory committee consisting of 14 faculty members and two students; eight post-doctoral fellows; six graduate fellows; and 11 undergraduate interns. It has launched the first international association for the study of anti-Semitism and has supervised undergraduate dissertations. Yale students have attended its seminars and courses.“

Let’s focus: The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA) was the first center of its kind in North America. Research on antisemitism (especially Muslim antisemitism) is among the most important fields of research in the humanities and social sciences today. Research on antisemitism is a specific field of research.

It may not be confused with harmless (not irrelevant, though) Jewish Studies on literature in the 19th century and other related topics.

P.S.: I am grateful for support, hints, and advice on this article to Prof. Philip Carl Salzman (Montréal, McGill University, Canada) and Prof. Neil J. Kressel (Yale University, YIISA, and William Paterson University, NJ, USA).


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