For all the talk and passion surrounding the phenomenon of anti-Semitism, the West actually knows relatively little about it, according to Dr. Charles Small, director of the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism.
"Where does it come from? Who is funding it? What is its political agenda?" Small asked in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post. "There's a real void in the academic community on issues of anti-Semitism," he believes, and he's out to do something about it.
Before the IISA at Yale there was ISGAP, the Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy founded by Small in 2004. ISGAP is a private nonprofit that seeks to bring together anti-Semitism researchers in a network that, Small says, doesn't really exist for the field.
ISGAP "came out of my experience living in Jerusalem [during the suicide bombings after the outbreak of the Second Intifada], witnessing the silence of human rights organizations and the academy in the face of a modern-day pogrom. There were a series of international conferences on anti-Semitism that culminated in June 2004 at the UN, and I kept seeing the same scholars show up."
The Yale initiative began in September 2006 as a series of seminars by noted speakers, including Harvard Yiddish scholar Ruth Wisse, former CIA director James Woolsey, former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler, and other scholars and researchers.
Now Small, a social theorist who taught in Israel and holds a PhD from Oxford, hopes to see it expand. Already, the center includes Small, a coordinator, student interns and a visiting research professor. "We're beginning to expand our activities, including a series of projects with Yale university press and a post-doctoral program where we hope to get leading scholars from the Middle East and Europe to research self-determination in Israel and the Middle East and issues in Eastern and Central Europe." The objective of the center is clear - to give academic evidence of anti-Semitism in the more extreme forms of Israel bashing and elsewhere.
"Most people - such as the readers of The Jerusalem Post - know in their gut that when people accuse Israel of all sorts of horrendous things or hold it to a different standard, this is a form of anti-Semitism," Small explains. "But as scholars, we can't act on our guts; we have to prove anti-Semitism. We have to produce material that can help scholars find out what's going on."
As such, the Yale center is groundbreaking, Small believes. "We're the fourth university center for anti-Semitism in the world," coming after those at the Technical University in Berlin, and Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University in Israel.
While these institutes "have been established for a long time and do important work," Small believes an anti-Semitism research center at Yale must play a different role. "Yale is an Ivy League university. Its alumni are the 'who's who' of American and global politics. I think it's important to be in a place where the significance of the scholarship doesn't stay in the ivory tower."
How does one go about "proving" anti-Semitism academically?
In an article titled "Anti-Israel Sentiment Predicts Anti-Semitism in Europe," published in The Journal of Conflict Resolution just one month before the Yale initiative was launched, Small and Yale's Prof. Edward Kaplan showed that Europeans who hold deeply anti-Israeli views are vastly more likely to also hold classic anti-Semitic views.
Across 10 European countries, Small and Kaplan conducted a telephone survey of 5,000 respondents, asking them about issues of classical anti-Semitic stereotypes and about anti-Israeli views. "There were questions about whether the IDF purposely targets children, whether Israel poisons the Palestinians' water supply - these sorts of extreme mythologies," Small says.
The study found that Europeans who are extremely anti-Israel are also disproportionately anti-Semitic. "The people who believed the anti-Israel mythologies also tended to believe that Jews are not honest in business, have dual loyalties, control government and the economy, and the like," Small says. The correlation is an astonishing 56%. That is, an Israel-hating European is 56% more likely to be anti-Semitic as well than the average European.
"This is extraordinary. It's off the charts," says Small. "If a food or a drug was 56% more likely to cause cancer, it would be taken off the shelf."
So while the study doesn't make the philosophical or semantic point equating anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, it makes another powerful argument: that those who believe the IDF purposely targets children, even if they are not anti-Semites, are in the company of such people.
Yet the academic study of anti-Semitism isn't just about the bad. The Kaplan-Small study, for instance, also found that the levels of both anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing in Europe are lower than the two researchers originally believed. This article, Small believes, showed that even a fairly straightforward academic study can reveal deep truths about this much-discussed but still not completely understood topic. European anti-Semitism is loud, angry and entrenched in the intelligentsia, but its bark may be bigger than its bite.
Yet perhaps the intelligentsia's power is also bigger than its size in the population? What, the Post asked, does an anti-Semitism researcher make of the British union boycotts?
"Clearly, this should raise alarm bells," Small replies. "Why single out Israel? Why not Sudan, China, Syria? In the Congo, millions were murdered. In Darfur they're being killed right now. There are so many more serious pressing issues."
Perhaps because they believe that with Israel they might be able to influence the situation?
"In that case, you can pass resolutions about those other countries that say, 'we can't do anything, but we oppose it.'"
According to Small, the intellectual failing of the boycott initiatives - their "blind spot" - is two-fold. "First, you're holding Israel up to inconsistent criteria. Second, where's the context? Israel is a country with complexity.
"The occupation has to be dealt with? Fine. But the boycott passed right before Hamas took over Gaza. People who are critical of the boycott said they were enabling radical extremists to take power. If you're boycotting Israel in solidarity with extremist forces in an Arab society - I think that's racist. Arab extremists are homophobic and sexist. They're opposed to democracy, opposed to enlightenment. And their anti-Semitism is literally genocidal. This is saying Palestinians and Arabs are not worthy of the democratic principles other peoples are entitled to." In examining whether the boycotts are anti-Semitic, Small believes, the researcher must ask "why it is that the UCU adopted a resolution that's so contradictory?"
Why is it? "One explanation for me is a deep anti-Semitism which permeates European society. After the Holocaust, there was some soul-searching in some European countries, particularly Germany and some Eastern European countries. But it never really took place in Western Europe. I think Britain and France underestimate the strength and embeddedness of anti-Semitism in their culture. Now it's 60 years later and anti-Semitism is changing, and there's no acknowledgement - never mind analysis - of the severity of it in British society, and among the intellectuals in particular."
It is a feature of the "new anti-Semitism" that it is difficult to easily pin down, according to Small. "Anti-Semitism went through historical stages," he explains. "There were four general periods. The first was based on religion - mostly Christian forms of anti-Semitism. With the Enlightenment and changes in European society, the dominant form moves from religion to notions of race and ethnicity, biological definitions of group identities. Jews were inferior, infecting the genetic composition and biological make-up [of the general population]. All sorts of pathologies were associated with this notion. The third phase, also connected with biological notions, was bound up in nationalism. Jews were rejected for not being part of a national group. Jews found themselves in societies where they had lived for centuries but were no longer part of. National boundaries were [understood] very narrowly."
Now, Small believes, "we're entering a fourth phase that's bound up with notions of global identity. For all sorts of interesting reasons, progressive European thinkers who are mindful of fascism and the extreme elements of nationalism that we saw in WWII, have created a whole body of thought that tries to move away from nationalism. They speak of hybridity, post-modern notions of identity, that we're all part of this grey group. It's an attempt to move away from nationalism."
In this new world, "Jews, in one sense the most hybrid identity in the history of the world - Israel is the most incredibly diverse and multi-cultural country in the history of the world, integrating people from Africa, Europe, Asia, the Americas - at the same time have a very strong Jewish identity and connection to Israel.
From a European hybrid, cosmopolitan perspective this is a problem. Jews' refusal to assimilate is a problem for those who believe in this postmodern notion of hybridity. It's hard for certain elements in Europe to see our complexity - on the one hand, we stand for our identity, we're particular, and on the other hand, we're universal."
At the same time, the Middle East is witnessing "a rise in essentialist identities, in very narrow notions of Islam, in which Jews are considered outsiders, cosmopolitans colonizing Muslim lands. So Jews are stuck between two emerging forces - they're getting it from radical Islamicists for being foreign elements in their midst, and from the [European] Left for sticking to their identity."
For Small, the new anti-Semitism places the Jews in a strategic position that is deeply worrying.
Without wishing to sound too alarmist, Small notes that the Jews' "structural global" situation looks familiar. "It's reminiscent to me of Europe before the Holocaust. On the one hand, you have the peasantry who are dislocated and economically and socially marginalized, while the Jewish community is more urban, trading in the shtetl. On the other side, the wealthy urban elite of Europe is anti-Semitic. So the Jews are stuck in the middle."
This is the broad pattern that Small wants to map out at the center. "Is this the emerging world we're living in?" he asks. "Are we surrounded by 'peasants' on the one side who are internalizing a new fascistic reactionary politics and identity, and on the other side the liberal, 'progressive' people who I wonder in the name of appeasement if they'll sell Israel and the Jewish people - and their principles, which are supposed to be human rights and equality of all citizens, racial and gender groups - down the river?"
Research into the phenomenon is intended to help devise a strategy for dealing with the challenge. The Yale initiative is, after all, housed in the university's Institution for Social and Policy Studies. So what, if anything, can be done?
"First, we need to educate ourselves. At speaking engagements, the first thing I do is ask people how many of them read the Hamas Charter. We need to educate ourselves on the worldview and agenda of radical Islam, something very different from Islam in general, though they're an increasingly vocal and politically important part of it. We have to understand how they perceive Jewish self-determination, the role of the Enlightenment, democracy, gender equality, the role of Jews in the society of the future. It's troubling that so few people take this seriously. We should; especially in Israel."
Just Jews should become more educated about anti-Semitism?
"Europeans as well. They need to become more fluent in what's actually happening on the ground in Europe, North America - everywhere. Incredibly, and for a series of complex reasons I do not understand, the Jewish community has been the canary in the coalmine before. And tragically, we are again. The threat of radical Islam to the Jewish people is severe, but it will not stop at the Jewish people.
"The first to be affected will be Muslims, because their societies will be overtaken by radical elements, and it will be devastating.
"All those who believe in human rights and equality need to be concerned about this. And we need to be aware of this coalition of liberals and radicals - not an active coalition, but one of acquiescence. The fact that the Iranian government can say what it's saying and do what it's doing 60 years after the Holocaust, and not many people in the academy are concerned, is beyond words. It's indescribable.
"If Europeans are truly aware of the holocaust and truly believe in the slogan never again, then instead of building statues in their cities, they should be ensuring that this regime in Iran doesn't build a nuclear arsenal. That would be a monument to the Holocaust."