Yale University launches new program on anti-Semitism

The school is "not willing to engage in a comprehensive examination of the current crisis facing living Jews," says head of scrapped program.

June 22, 2011 03:12
3 minute read.
The Yale University campus

Yale University. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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NEW YORK – After summarily closing the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA) earlier this month, Yale University has announced the creation of the Yale Program for the Study of Anti-Semitism (YPSA), a program devoted to “serious scholarly discourse and research” on anti-Semitism and its manifestations.

The new program was announced by a letter from Yale University Provost Peter Salovey this week. “I am hopeful that this program will produce major scholarship on the vitally important subject of anti-Semitism,” Salovey wrote.

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Reactions to the announcement varied. Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman released a statement saying the ADL is “satisfied that Yale University understood the critical importance for continuing an institute for the study and research of anti-Semitism.”

While describing the ADL as “disappointed” that YIISA’s director, Dr. Charles Small, would not be involved in YPSA, Foxman said the ADL is “confident that the study program will continue to strengthen its status, importance and significance in combating global anti-Semitism.”

“We hope that the decision to close the Yale Interdisciplinary Initiative was only a blip, and that in the long run this reconfigured approach will help to stabilize and strengthen the study of anti- Semitism at Yale,” Foxman’s statement read.

Others were more skeptical. YIISA’s former executive director and founder Charles Small said the announcement of the new program “underscores [his] greatest concern about the university’s vision for the study of this subject,” which is that Yale has chosen to examine past, rather than present and future, anti-Semitism.

“Anti-Semitism is a 21st-century relevant issue,” Small said in a statement.

“To focus on its roots and history, glosses over issues scholars must address today, especially when it comes to the threat of contemporary radical Islamist anti-Semitism.”

Emphasis on Yale’s library and archival resources, Small said, only “underlines its inability to engage its focus on contemporary forms of genocidal anti-Semitism which is an urgent threat, not only to the Jewish people, but to democratic values and principles.

“It appears that Yale, unlike YIISA, is not willing to engage in a comprehensive examination of the current crisis facing living Jews, but instead is comfortable with reexamining the plight of Jews who perished at the hands of anti-Semites,” Small’s statement read. “The role of a true scholar and intellectual is to shed light where there is darkness, which is why we at YIISA are committed to critically engaged scholarship with a broader approach to the complex, and at times controversial context of contemporary global anti-Semitism.”

The conference “Global Anti-Semitism: A Crisis of Modernity,” held by YIISA at Yale’s campus in New Haven, Connecticut, in August 2010, exemplifies this ethos – but also may have brought the ax down on the program, as many sources who preferred to remain anonymous conjectured that the conference’s condemnation of anti-Semitism in Muslim nations may have alienated prospective Yale donors, to Yale’s chagrin.

Similar points were made about YIISA’s research on Iranian Holocaust denial.

Kenneth Marcus, director of the Anti- Semitism Initiative at the Institute for Jewish and Community Research in San Francisco, told The Jerusalem Post he was concerned that “Yale may be killing a forward-looking, critically engaged institution and replacing it with a quieter, more historically-minded center.

“This would not be a problem if anti- Semitism were a mere historical problem. Given the recent resurgence of global anti-Semitism, a more active scholarly response is necessary.”

“YIISA is in conversation with several academic institutions that understand the importance of our mission and they have expressed interest in YIISA becoming part of their academic community,” Small said in his press release. “I wish YPSA success in their efforts, we are all colleagues on a subject matter with profound implications.”

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