Organize a conference that invites virtually only hard-line Zionists (ranging in ideology from New Republic liberal hawks to Commentary neocons, with the occasional rightwinger settler) and you get the conference that Yale's Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism and the International Associations for the Study of Anti-Semitism sponsored last week.
Take a look at some of the plenary and keynote speakers: Irwin Cotler, Jeffrey Herf, Richard Landes, Deborah Lipstadt, Meir Litvak, Menahem Milson, Dina Porat, Milton Shain, Bassam Tibi (the token "good Muslim") and Ruth Wisse. Looks more like a conference sponsored by the Zionist Organization of America. Even one sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute would have better balance. Didn't see too many Jewish progressives invited (actually, I didn't see any.)
Do only hard-line Zionists care about anti-Semitism? No, not really. But the study of anti-Semitism has gravitated in that direction because it has been taken over by Israelis and Zionists, and is supported mostly by hard-line Zionist money. Sorry to be blunt, but I can think of no other explanation. Look at the comments by Israeli Foreign Ministry's Combating Anti-Semitism czar, Aviva Raz Shechter, one of the main keynote speakers at the conference, in an interview to the settler's radio station, Arutz Sheva:
I spoke of the new face of anti-Semitism which couches itself in the more trendy term known as anti-Zionism. College campuses are hotbeds for the apologists of terrorism who call themselves human rights activists. They reserve their harshest criticism for Israel, yet they remain silent in the face of Muslim human rights abuses that occur in such countries as the Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran and other countries.
These same people are also in the forefront of organizing academic boycotts of Israeli professors, and sadly, some Jewish academics have played a major role in this. When I speak to government leaders, decision makers and these purported human rights activists, they tell me that if Israel would only "cease and desist in being an occupying power", then that would obviate the need for Israeli opposition groups. I respond by telling them that this is nonsense and haters will always come up with new reasons to hate Jews.
So, if you are a "trendy" anti-Zionist (what about the old-fashioned sort?), or non-Zionist, or a Zionist who supports an academic boycott of Israel because of the Occupation, you are ipso facto an anti-Semite. Now, I doubt that all of the participants shared the views of Ms. Raz Schechter, only most. Some, no doubt, would have been more interested in the following plenary session:
Self-Hatred and Contemporary Anti-Semitism
Professor Doron Ben-Atar, Fordham University: "Without Ahavath Yisrael: Thoughts on Radical Anti-Zionism at Brandeis"
Professor Richard Landes: "Scourges and Their Audiences: What Drives Jews to Loathe Publicly and What to Do About It."
Professor Alvin Rosenfeld, "Beyond Criticism and Dissent: On the Jewish Contributions to the Deligitimation of Israel"
Labeling Jews who are consciously and conscientiously attempting to fulfill Jewish and universal ideals of justice as "self-hating" is, well, anti-Semitic.
Now, I don't agree with the views of many of the participants – I find some of them offensive – but so what? Academic conferences are supposed to feature experts in their field. Maybe the only people speaking about the "New Anti-Semitism" and "Palestinian Anti-Semitism" are of a certain ideological stripe?
Rubbish. I ask the organizers, and especially Charles Small, one simple question: Where were the other voices?
Where was the voice of Oxford Prof. Brian Klug, who has written of the Myth of the "New Anti-Semitism"?
Where was the voice of Mideast analyst Tony Klug, who has raised the question, whether Israel is responsible for the growth of global anti-Semitism?
Where was the voice of George Washington U. Prof. Nathan Brown, who has criticized the conclusions and methodology of Itamar Marcus's work on Palestinian textbooks. (Marcus spoke at the conference, "The Central Role of Anti-Semitism on Creating the Palestinian Identity" -- Note to Joel Migdal: How come you never put that in your book on Palestinian identity?)
And, dare I add, where was the voice of Norman Finkelstein, who has criticized Phyllis Chesler's book on the "New Anti-Semitism" in Beyond Chutzpah (Chesler was there.)
I suppose the answer of the organizers would be: If you don't agree with our understanding of anti-Semitism, you are probably an anti-Semite, and you don't invite "anti-Semites" to a conference on anti-Semitism. No, you invite Rabbi David Nessonoff who experienced anti-Semitism after he interviewed Helen Thomas to give a keynote talk.
By accepting the hard-line Zionist discourse on anti-Semitism, without even bothering to hear an alternative voice, Yale's Center has begged the question. Any academic conference that is so one-sided is bound not to be taken seriously, and, frankly, 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.
When I was an undergrad at Yale, an irate alumnus wrote a letter to the Yale Alumni Magazine, complaining that because Yale admitted so many Jews, his son couldn't get accepted. The letter provoked many letters of outrage bemoaning the legacy of WASP anti-Semitism at Yale.
A more insidious form of Jew-hatred is now being peddled by the right-wingers who demonize progressive Jewish and non-Jewish voices. Sad to say, this sort of anti-Semitism was given a public forum at Yale. The PLO representative complained to Yale's president that the conference bashed Palestinians who are themselves Semites. Judging from some of the titles, there was good old fashioned anti-Semitism there as well. But most of all, we saw a conference that Zionist-ized, politicized, and ulimately, trivialized, anti-Semitism.
Hat tip to Mondoweiss, my favorite global watcher of rightwing anti-Semitism