Thursday, June 9, 2011

Boola! Boola! Yale Decides that It’s Curtains for the Yale Initiative for the Study of Anti-Semitism

Update, June 10: Antony Lerman, a scholar of anti-Semitism, has written a very good post on the Yale decision, against the backdrop of the politicization of the study of anti-Semitism. For more substance (and more length) please read his in addition to mine.

"When the sons of Eli break through the line/That is the sign we hail/Bull Dog! Bull Dog! Bow-wow-wow!/ Eli Yale"

                                    -- Cole Porter

Sorry for that burst of filial love for my alma mater. But the Yale Daily News is reporting that Yale has decided not to renew the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism.

The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism (YIISA), which has operated since 2006, will not continue next year, Director of the Institution for Social and Policy Studies Donald Green said in a statement.

The decision to end the program has met criticism from groups across the nation that show support for Jewish people, such as the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League. But Green, a political science professor, said YIISA generated little scholarly work that earned publication in highly regarded journals, and its courses attracted few students.

"YIISA suffered the same fate as other initially promising programs… that were eventually terminated at ISPS because they failed to meet high standards for research and instruction," Green said, citing the Center for the Study of Race, Inequality and Politics as another example of an underachieving program.

In other words, the program was crappy. And so it was axed. Good for Yale. And good for the serious study of anti-Semitism.

The moral of this story? Take an important phenomenon which is worthy of study and have it hijacked by people with an ideological agenda, who organize conferences that revel in Islamaphobia and rightwing Zionism, mixing mediocre academics and non-academics with serious scholars, all of whom have axes to grind – in short, trivialize anti-Semitism in order to silence critics of Israel – and sooner or later, God willing, real academics will write it off as an embarrassment.

For my criticisms of the pseudo-scholarly hate-fest organized last year, see my post here.

I have no objection at all to a Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism, though a Center for the Study of Racism, including Anti-Semitism as one of several phenomena, would suit my tastes better. And I agree with Abe Foxman that it would be better to try to fix the YIISA then to end it – but not for his reasons:

"The decision to end the Center was a bad one on its own terms, but it is even worse because it leaves the impression that the anti-Jewish forces in the world achieved a significant victory," Foxman    said.

For Foxman the Initiative was to have been a Yale Anti-Defamation League, combating world anti-Semites, rather than a serious intellectual endeavor.

May I suggest to Mr. Foxman that if the anti-Jewish forces in the world have achieved a significant victory, it's because the intellectual poverty of the Initiative had become a shonde for the Jews and for the goyyim.

Let Yale study anti-Semitism – but let Yale do it seriously, and not put on conferences like the one I criticized.

And, please, Yale – hang tough when the alumni donors start making phone calls.

h/t to Mairav Zonszein


levi9909 said...

Great news and very well announced by Antony Lerman.

zachary esterson said...

This was Deborah Lipstadt's take on the issue:

'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. It is crucial that it do so particularly at a time when anti-Semitism worldwide is experiencing a growth spurt.

Two lessons can be drawn from this imbroglio. First, there is a real need for serious academic institutions to facilitate and encourage the highest-level research on anti-Semitism. (Currently, the only one that exists is at Indiana University, under the leadership of Alvin Rosenfeld.) These institutions could explore why hatred persists even after the Holocaust starkly demonstrated what it could “accomplish.” What about anti-Semitism makes it so malleable that it is able to re-create itself in such a wide array of settings, cultures and ages? They might also ask why the world’s oldest hatred has recently been so little studied and analyzed. Exploring that conundrum is something a first-rate academic institution is uniquely qualified to do. Moreover, this research must focus not just on Christian anti-Semitism, but on Muslim anti-Semitism, as well. Today there are few universities where a young scholar who worked in this field would be granted a position or tenure irrespective of how bright and talented she is. This, too, is something well worth exploring.

After cutting-edge academics have shed light on this issue, communal organizations, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee among them, that are so adept at creating strategies to address the problem will have the diagnosis they need in order to help them move ahead with their work.

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.'

Read more:

Jerry Haber said...

Thanks Zachary,

I particularly liked Lipstadt's concluding paragraph. One doesn't need to read between the lines to hear her implicit criticism of the Yale Anti-Semitism Initiative (and I imagine of her Jewish history colleagues at Yale, like Paula Hyman)