Monday, January 24th | 22 Shevat 5782

June 26, 2011 1:23 am

Scholarship, Advocacy, and Antisemitism at Yale

avatar by Clemens Heni

On June 19, 2011, Yale University announced a new program: the “Yale Program for the Study of Anti-Semitism”(YPSA). Maurice Samuels from the Department of French will lead the Program. Yale says in its announcement for the program:

Related coverage

January 21, 2022 3:29 pm

Teacher at Mexico City University Fired for ‘Joke’ in Zoom Class Mocking Holocaust Victims

A teacher has been fired from a Mexico City university after she was seen mocking Holocaust victims during a virtual...

“I am hopeful that this program will produce major scholarship on the vitally important subject of antisemitism. Professor Samuels and his colleagues have Yale’s remarkable library resources at their disposal, including the Fortunoff Video Archives of Holocaust Testimonies and the 95,000-volume Judaica collection of the Yale Library.

I want to take this opportunity to thank you for your keen interest in the study of anti-Semitism at Yale. This is an exciting new beginning, and we all look forward to seeing the results.

Sincerely yours

Peter Salovey


Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology

A Judaica collection has close to nothing to do with research on anti-Semitism, especially when it comes to genocidal threats from Iran, Hamas, or Hezbollah, in 2011. Yale University deals with literature and Jewish fiction in the 19th century and frames it as “Yale Program for the Study of Antisemitism (YPSA).” The Jerusalem Post’s author and historian Gil Troy, the ADL, and other news channels and newspapers, organizations, scholars, and authors embrace Yale for this step. This is misleading, and this article tells you why.

In 2004, the appointed head of YPSA, Maurice Samuels, published his book The Spectacular Past. Popular History and the Novel in Nineteenth-Century France (Ithaca/London: Cornell University Press). In it, he deals with a film from 1927 about Napoléon, and points to a snowball scene, which reminds him to the following:

“One example is the famous snowball fight scene that opens the film, a version of which had been featured in ‘Bonaparte à l’école de Brienne, ou le petit caporal, souvenirs de 1783,’ the Napoleon play starring Virginie Déjazet in 1830. Images of the snowball fight also appear in A.V. Arnault’s, Vie politique et militaire de Napoléon (1822) and Laurent de l’Ardèche’s Histoire de l’empereur Napoléon (1839), two of the illustrated histories I discuss in chapter 2.”

That’s fascinating and fine scholarship, just not quite the sort needed to address anti-Semitism in the contemporary world.

For example, scholarship on anti-Semitism needs the following:

  • Scholars who deal with Qassam rockets, Grad rockets, other rocket systems (and not with snowballs); who deal with satellite systems, and firebombs, thrown on Israeli civilians, tanks, and soldiers by Hamas, Hezballah, and other antisemitic terror groups.
  • It needs scholars who deal with Islamist thinkers, from Hasan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb to Mohammad Chatami, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Yusuf al-Qaradawi and his anti-Israel and pro-suicide-bombing fatwas.
  • It needs scholars who deal with the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamism, not only in Egypt, rather in the entire Middle East, Europe, North America, and elsewhere.
  • It needs scholars on Iran and the analysis of incitement to genocide.
  • It needs scholars on Turkey, and lawful Islamism, and its relationship to anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
  • It needs scholars on Islamic Jihad, terror, the Taliban, al Qaida, or homegrown terrorism in the West.
  • It needs scholars on left-wing, progressive, Muslim, and Neo-Nazi anti-Zionist antisemitism.
  • It needs scholars to address the ideologies and concepts of postorientalism, postcolonialism, and their possible relationship to anti-Semitism (e.g. in the work of Edward Said)
  • And we need, for example, scholars on anti-Semitism and anti-Israel propaganda in the Western mass media in the 21stcentury.
    • There is nothing wrong with scholarship on France and Jewish history; it is important.  But it shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for serious scholarship on contemporary antisemitism. The study of dead anti-Semites and past campaigns of vilification is already part of every single Jewish Studies department in the world. Samuels already made clear that he will not focus on the Arab world or Muslim antisemitism. He intends to hold his first conference in spring 2012 on the history and on contemporary aspects of anti-Semitism in – France. He will not deal with the Iranian threat or with Hamas or the ideology of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, but with France.
    • Dealing with Jewish literature (the topic of Samuels’ new book in 2010) has nothing to do with research on (contemporary) antisemitism. Scholarship has to focus on antisemites and antisemitic ideology, not on the collection of Judaica at Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library or other libraries.

If the new program really wants to deal with anti-Semitism past and present – Why did Yale close YIISA “in the first place,” New York Post’s Abby Wisse Schachter asks: “Here’s the question: Studying the ‘old’ version of anti-Semitism was never the problem. No one at Yale had any problem with YIISA studying Jew-hatred by communists, fascists, Catholics or Protestants. The issue is the study of ‘new’ anti-Semitism, Muslim anti-Semitism. If the new center is going to study anti-Semitism ‘in all its forms’ as Solvey claims, and that includes Muslim anti-Semitism, why did they have to close YIISA in the first place?”

Ben Cohen is also skeptical about the new program at Yale. The new “Yale Program for the Study of Anti-Semitism” has nothing in common with previous research on anti-Semitism at Yale. Early in June 2011 Yale University decided to shut down the 2006 established Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA) by the end of July 2011. Many newspapers, the radio, and other media reported about this decision. The debate about the Yale decision to kill YIISA started on June 6, 2011, with an article by Abby Wisse Schachter. Many journalists, organizations, and scholars joined the cause, such as the Zionist Organization of America, the American Jewish Committee, and the Anti-Defamation League.

Professor Alvin Rosenfeld has written an open letter to Yale, urging the university to keep YIISA. Professor, feminist, and bestseller author Phyllis Chesler is shocked about the “Palestinianization and Stalinization of the American professoriate,” and Caroline Glick advises donors to think twice where to give money in the future. Alex Joffe is upset about the decision of Yale, and the same holds for journalists and publicists Ben Cohen or Benjamin Weinthal.

British anti-Zionist Anthony Lerman, though, is happy about Deborah Lipstadt’s criticism of YIISA. He embraces her because the historian from Emory University in Atlanta attacks YIISA as “advocacy,” rather than the decision of Yale.

Harvard Professor and YIISA Board member Alan Dershowitz says in an interview with another keynote speaker of the August 2010 conference at YIISA “Global Anti Semitism: A Crisis of Modernity”, David F. Nesenoff:  “I think some of the blame lies not only with the Jewish faculty members but with pro-Israel faculty members who are too frightened to speak up because it makes them unpopular. You pay a price on campus today for being pro-Israel. Even I pay a price for that.”

Yale has a long history of anti-Semitism. Dershowitz says: “The slogan of Yale was ‘Urim v’Tumim‘ [light and truth] in Hebrew. The joke was if you could read it, you can’t go there. The college had an overt quota system. I was not in the college. I couldn’t get into the college obviously. When I went to the law school there was overt anti-Semitism in the hiring process by law firms. And there were secret clubs that didn’t allow in Jews. That was 50 years ago. Yale has a terrible legacy of anti-Semitism, which should make it sensitive to the issue.”

Historian Stephen H. Norwood shows in his book The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower (Cambridge University Press 2009) that Yale and many other Ivy League universities were very much pro-German and not at all anti-Nazi. Norwood writes: “Yale University and Vassar College German clubs invited Dr. Richard Sallet,attaché at the German Embassy in Washington, to speak on campus about Hitler’s Germany. The Nazi-diplomat spoke informally on December 11 to Yale’s Germanic Club, which was composed of faculty members and graduate students, on ‘The New Foundation of the German Commonwealth.'” (p. 164f.)

The PLO and its longtime leader Yasir Arafat (1969-2004) have been and are still followers of the Grand Mufti Mohammed Amin al-Hussaini. Al-Hussaini was a close ally of National Socialism, Hitler and the Germans. He was actively involved in the Holocaust. Scholarship on anti-Semitism dealt with Al-Hussaini in the last couple of years, one of the first brochures on the Grand Mufti, Italian Fascists and the Nazis (The Axis) was published as early as 1947 by Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal.

The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism (YIISA) provided space for scholarship on such topics. Of course the PLO rejects scholarship; they embrace propaganda. Yale University follows the advice of the PLO and stops scholarship on the Grand Mufti, the PLO, and Nazism.

Yale fails to fight anti-Semitism in 2011 as it failed to do so in 1933. Historian Dr. Stephen H. Norwood, Professor at the University of Oklahoma, who was one of the speakers at the YIISA seminar series in 2011, reports in his above quoted book: “President James Rowland Angell of Yale University refused the request of Rabbi Edgar E. Siskin on March 27, 1933, at a community-wide mass meeting in New Haven called to voice ‘dismay and indignation at the anti-Semitic excesses now being carried out in Germany.’ President Angell told Rabbi Siskin: ‘I greatly fear the unfavorable effect of public demonstrations.’ Rabbi Siskin was deeply disappointed that President Angell declined his invitation and told him, ‘Your presence with us would have added greatly to the effect of our protest locally'”(p. 15).

In 1936 the Yale Athletic Board and the Yale Daily News supported Nazi Germany’s Olympic Games and rejected a boycott of this propaganda event in Berlin. Yale has a very bad record when it comes to fighting anti-Semitism (both Nazi anti-Semitism and today Muslim or “progressive anti-Semitism”) – from the 1930s until today, of course with exceptions like YIISA.

Today Alan Dershowitz blames Yale for the killing of YIISA, for good reason: “The University should have sought public input from faculty and other people. Forexample, I’m an alum; I’m a member of the Board of Advisors. I never got a phone call. I was never asked my views on this matter. I’ve spoken for them. You would think that the University might call me and others like me, or at least get our input. They didn’t.”

There are other scholars, though, who prefer to blame YIISA instead of Yale – let’s compare the stand of Alan Dershowitz with an article by historian Deborah Lipstadt.

YIISA was the first institution of its kind, the first university-based center for research on anti-Semitism in North America. Isn’t this astonishing? Let’s just take the last 10 years, since the “second Intifada” in September 2000 and since the horror of 9/11. Why did no full-time professor and no university, whether Ivy League or in a small town, whether in New York City, Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago, or Dallas establish a center especially and exclusively dedicated to the scholarly analysis of anti-Semitism, of new anti-Semitism, left-wing, progressive (Jewish and non-Jewish), Muslim, Arabic, right-wing extremist, mainstream, media and other forms of (anti-Zionist) antisemitism?

Finally a Canadian sociologist, Dr. Small, originally specialized in urban planning, then taking up the analysis of new anti-Semitism, came to Yale to head the new YIISA. He had the idea, the resources, and the network of scholars, donors, and Yale people who supported and embraced his idea of YIISA, among them William Prusoff and Allon Canaan.

Most recently an article about “How to Study Anti-Semitism” in the “Jewish Daily Forward” by above mentioned historian Deborah Lipstadt from Emory University in Atlanta surprised many scholars on anti-Semitism as well as people in the pro-Israel tent. While pretending to be against all forms of antisemitism, Lipstadt is even more against “advocacy.” She denounces Charles Small for being an advocate and not a scholar.

Why did Yale close YIISA? Have a look back. On September 3, 2011, the JTA reported criticisms and resentments from Arab sources about the large YIISA conference held in August 2010: “The PLO envoy to Washington said that a conference on anti-Semitism at Yale University ‘demonized Arabs.’

In an August 30 letter to the university’s president, Richar Levin, Ma’en Areikat cited the Aug. 23-25 inaugural conference of the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism. The conference was titled “š”Global Antisemitism: A Crisis of Modernity.”  “As Palestinians, we strongly support principles of academic freedom and free speech, however racist propaganda masquerading as scholarship does not fall into this category,” Areikat said.

Don Filer, director of Yale’s office of international affairs, wrote back to say that Yale does not censor academics, the Yale Daily News reported. In his letter Areikat cited three lectures and scholars out of more than 100 at a conference that included sessions not only on anti-Semitism in the Islamic world but among feminists, in the Christian world and among Jews. Scholars came from 18 countries and leading educational institutions, and included pre-eminent experts in their fields such as Deborah Lipstatdt.

Areikat singled out for criticism Itamar Marcus, who directs Palestinian Media Watch. Marcus delivered a keynote lecture titled ” The Central Role of Palestinian Anti-Semitism in Creating the Palestinian Identity.”

What is Lipstadt’s response in June 2011, after Yale followed the advice of the PLO to kill YIISA? It is interesting how she deals with scholarship at Yale. “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.”

What are the facts? Dr. Small talked to me and told me about his career. He is astonished that Lipstadt, whom he had invited to YIISA several times, did not talk to him before reporting about his career.

Being on Dr. Small’s participation in the program of the “Yale Institution for Social and Policy Studies,” and his teaching in its “Program in EthicsPolitics, and Economics (EPE)” apparently does not count for her Dr. Small also run programs for undergraduates, graduates, as well as a Postdoctoral Program.  I told Dr. Lipstadt about my research and she wrote that she clearly sees my “excellent” work. However, she did not respond to my inquiry as to why she attacked Charles Small and YIISA for having moved from scholarship to advocacy.

Dr. Lipstadt makes accusations of advocacy, without talking about the high-profile scholarly results of YIISA. YIISA held five conferences, not including its huge conference with over 100 presentations in August 2010.

Most importantly, YIISA organized and hosted from fall 2005 until spring 2011 some 118 events in its Seminar Series on “Antisemitism in Contemporary Perspective.” This series was also announced on the pages of ISPS. The 118 events included 128 presentations.

I told Lipstadt that I disagree with her piece and told her about the high-profile scholarship at YIISA. She responded and says: “At the same time, however, there was a strain of advocacy in many of the presentations and papers and this made even those who were supporters of YISA uncomfortable.  This gave fodder to YISA’s critics and lead to YALE’s actions.” Well, this is an interesting argument from a scholar of the Holocaust and the history of anti-Semitism.

She says that inappropriate activities – advocacy (for Israel) – led to “criticism,” like that of the PLO. This is a lie. The PLO promotes hatred of Israel and is not a “critic.” The PLO cannot tolerate the scholarly analysis of Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim anti-Semitism. The analysis of anti-Semitism like that of the PLO clearly shows that their ideology and actions do not depend on what others do or not do.

Lipstadt does not mention the above quoted letter from the PLO, which sparked the entire debate about the big YIISA conference in August 2010 at Yale.

Contrary to that, the historian does not try to portray the real climate and scholarship at YIISA. Why is Deborah Lipstadt not mentioning a single of these events at YIISA? Why is she not saying who was doing this allegedly inappropriate advocacy?

YIISA had lectures from the most distinguished scholars in the field of anti-Semitism, including Jeffrey Herf, Michael Walzer, Bassam Tibi, Stephen Norwood, Daniel Tsadik, Moishe Postone, Dovid Katz, Paul Lawrence Rose, Mordechai Kedar, Barry Rubin, David Menashri, Richard Landes, Kenneth Marcus, Gerald Steinberg, Ruth Wisse, Dina Porat, Alvin Rosenfeld, Benny Morris, and particularly Robert S. Wistrich. If a program succeeds in bringing in the best scholars in the field, it is doing a good job.

Historian Lipstadt prefers rumor (“sources at Yale” told her about the unwillingness of YIISA to do real scholarship) instead of facts. Why didn’t she contact Dr. Small or why didn’t she use a search on the Internet? Even if she couldn’t find many publications of the director, she should have looked at publications on antisemitism published by fellows, postdocs, or associate professors, and the guest speakers.

Without referring to Small’s career Lipstadt says: “There is, however, another side to this story. Apparently, there were people on the Yale campus who were associated with YIISA and who were eager to have it succeed. These friends of YIISA counseled the institute’s leadership that some of its efforts had migrated to the world of advocacy from that of scholarship. They warned YIISA that it was providing fodder to the critics’ claim that it was not a truly academic endeavor.

I have twice participated in YIISA’s activities. I gave a paper at one of its weekly seminar sessions on Holocaust denial and attended its conference last August. While serious scholars who work in this field gave the vast majority of the papers — and not dilettantes who dabble in it — there were a few presentations that gave me pause. They were passionate and well argued. But they were not scholarly in nature.”

Lipstadt does not give a single name; she spreads rumor. Maybe she is also aiming at Itamar Marcus (“not scholarly in nature”), cited by the PLO. Maybe she has other “passionate,” though “not scholarly” presentations in mind. We do not know because she is intentionally not giving a name or a subject.

She ends her article for the Forward (and Engage from the UK republished her piece) with the following:

“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.”

Would Deborah Lipstadt also say that Women’s Studies, Black Studies, or Postcolonial Studies should stay away from advocacy? Does she believe that scholarship in these (very fashionable) fields is not “biased” pro-woman, pro-black, or pro the oppressed third world? If she ever has dealt with programs in Postcolonial studies or Women’s studies she would know that all these programs of course are doing “advocacy.” So scholarship and advocacy are quite typical on campus in the US and elsewhere.

Professor Philip Carl Salzman criticizes Lipstadt and Engage and says: “Much of the Humanities and Social Sciences is advocacy. This is obvious in such fields as “Women’s Studies,” “Black Studies,” and other fields of identity politics. But it is equally true in fields such as sociology, anthropology, “cultural studies,” communications, and other fields, in which advocating for the “subaltern,” the “postcolonial,” and other favourites of the left is common. One only has to note that the dominant influence in many of the fields during the last decades is Edward Said, a professor of English Literature who ventured into Middle East politics and the history and sociology of knowledge, with no expertise in either. No university administration ever complained about advocacy for Palestinians. But it is quite a different matter to advocate on behalf of politically incorrect Jews, ever worse to advocate for “Nazi” and “apartheid” Israel, and “racist” to suggest that there is such a thing as Islamic anti-Semitism, which would be a blatant case of Islamophobia. The problem is not advocacy, as Lipstadt cluelessly suggests, but politically incorrect advocacy, or even politically incorrect scholarship. Let’s get real, folks.”

Is Lipstadt really thinking of too much pro-Israel advocacy in programs in Islamic or Middle Eastern Studies in the US? Has she ever heard of pro-Arab, anti-Israel scholars such as John Esposito, Barbara Freyer-Stowasser, Khaled Abou El Fadl, Rashid Khalidi, Gil Anidjar, or Ian Shapiro and almost all other academics dealing with the Middle East and area studies? Being anti-Zionist, pro-Islamist is a door-opener in these fields. Everyone who mentions, let alone analyzes Arab, Muslim, and Islamic anti-Semitism will be blocked.

Yale professor of political science Ian Shapiro, a close ally of ISPS head Donald Green, and the Yale MacMillan Center invited anti-Semite judge Goldstone in 2011. Yale Senior Fellow Hillary Mann Leverett (“engagement, not pressure,” when it comes to Iran) embraces Holocaust denier, anti-

Semite, and anti-American propagandist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. She and 13 students of her Yale class met officially with the Iranian criminal in September 2010 in New York City. This is of course not advocacy for Holocaust denial and antisemitism. This is tender “engagement.”

What does our Yale snowball expert and head of the newly established “Yale Program for the study of Antisemitism” (YPSA) say about such events?

And what says historian Deborah Lipstadt? She does not mention the history of anti-Semitism at Yale. She does not note today’s anti-Semitic events and “engagements” at Yale either. She misses the point, again. She is a good scholar when it comes to fighting Holocaust denial, soft-core denial and obfuscation or distortion of the Holocaust, or when it comes to remembering the Eichmann trial. I even use her term “soft-core” Holocaust denial, because this is quite an interesting terminology for the obfuscation, distortion, or denial of the unprecedented crime of the Shoah.

But on contemporary anti-Semitism she is a newcomer. This is not a fault. It is a fault, though, to spread rumors about “passionate” but “inappropriate advocacy” at a YIISA conference. In effect, if not in intent, Lipstadt and her allies who republished her piece are supporting the anti-Zionist PLO, Islamism, and the entire post-colonialist, postorientalist agenda.

They approve scholarship on these topics, which are all pure advocacy for Palestinians, “the oppressed”, Muslims, etc., and blame the victim: Israel and the Jews. They blame those who dare to do scholarship on antisemitism while taking a clear stand for democracy, universal rights, America and the Jewish state of Israel. A scholar on antisemitism who believes that he or she is not doing advocacy for Jews is fooling him- or herself. A doctor who is looking for new medicine against cancer is doing advocacy – for mankind – as well as scholarship.

YIISA is the place which provided a space for high-profile scholarship on antisemitism. It was a diverse place, too. Several fellows rather followed poststructuralist and postcolonial attempts, while others tried to strengthen analysis of ideology, particularly criticism of anti-Zionist antisemitism among “minority groups” in the west, like left-wingers, Muslims, “peace” activists etc. If anyone deals seriously with the history of YIISA one finds totally different scholarly biographies.

However: Not many places provided so many scholars from all over the world the opportunity to discuss their articles, books, working papers, lectures, pieces, and ideas about contemporary and other forms of anti-Semitism. To attack YIISA by framing it as pure advocacy and not scholarship has nothing to do with misrepresent reality – as this article proves.

We should go further to save YIISA, as Professor Walter Reich puts it in the Washington Post. He points to anti-Semitic students and organizations that may well behind the decision (among others of course), and he points to the high-profile scholarship at YIISA and its involvement in the Yale faculty: “The conference [the above mentioned August 2010 YIISA conference] provoked a firestorm. A Syrian-American law student published a broadside in the Yale Daily News attacking the institute and the conference as fueling “anti-Arab bigotry and Islamophobia.” The Palestine Liberation Organization’s representative to the United States wrote to Yale’s president accusing the conference of demonizing Arabs — “who are Semites themselves” — and urging him to dissociate himself and Yale from the conference’s “extremism and hate-mongering.” The Internet lit up with attacks on the institute and Yale.

Yale administrators and faculty quickly turned on the institute. It was accused of being too critical of the Arab and Iranian anti-Semitism and of being racist and right-wing. The criticism was unfounded. The institute’s faculty governance committee includes 13 Yale faculty members. It has four faculty researchers; a faculty advisory committee consisting of 14 faculty members and two students; eight postdoctoral fellows; six graduate fellows; and 11 undergraduate interns. It has launched the first international association for the study of anti-Semitism and has supervised undergraduate dissertations. Yale students have attended its seminars and courses.”

Let’s focus: The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA) was the first center of its kind in North America. Research on anti-Semitism (especially Muslim anti-Semitism) is among the most important fields of research in the humanities and social sciences today. Research on antisemitism is a specific field of research. It may not be confused with harmless (not irrelevant, though) Jewish Studies on Literature in the 19th century and other, related topics.

P.S. I am grateful for support, hints, encouragement and advice on many aspects of previous drafts of this article to Phyllis Chesler, Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies at City University of New York, Prof. Philip Carl Salzman (Montréal, McGill University, Canada) and Prof. Neil J. Kressel (Yale University, YIISA, and William Paterson University, NJ, USA). The author is a political scientist, the founder of the Berlin International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism (BICSA), and a publisher (Edition Critic). In August 2011 he will publish his study on Schadenfreude. Islamic Studies and Antisemitism in Germany after 9/11 (in German).

Share this Story: Share On Facebook Share On Twitter

Let your voice be heard!

Join the Algemeiner

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.