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.