June 10, 2011

Another blow to the antisemitism industry

The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism (YIISA) is to close for lack of interest and, apparently because of quality issues. I first read about this in an Engage posting of a Yale News article by David Burt. Googling YIISA I can't find much on this from any side that doesn't support the scrapping of the 5 year old "initiative". (How long can an initiative remain an initiative?).

The David Burt article ever slightly exaggerates when it claims that the "decision to end the program has met criticism from groups across the nation that show support for Jewish people". He names but two of these groups that "show support for the Jewish people", The American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League. I can't see much evidence of any other groups that "show support for the Jewish people" taking issue with the ending of the initiative. And I can't find any primary or secondary source for the decision itself. Maybe there's something on some Yale site and to be honest I haven't looked very hard.

But Engage carries a link to an article by Ben Cohen published on both Harry's Place (a bit of a zionist hate site if you ask me) and Pajamas Media. So let's see what Ben has to say:

Here, in essence, is what Yale University told me on June 7, after I contacted its communications office to ask why an institute dedicated to the study of antisemitism had been shut down: some of our best friends are Jews.
“As you may be aware,” Yale spokesman Thomas Conroy wrote in an email, “Yale has long been a leader in Judaic research, teaching and collections. Yale’s Judaic Studies program has outstanding faculty members who conduct path-breaking research and inspire graduate and undergraduate students who choose from scores of courses and may earn degrees. The University library’s Judaica Collection is one of the strongest in the Western Hemisphere. The Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies is a historic treasure and exceptional scholarly resource.”
All well and good. But why, I asked Conroy, was this information pertinent to the closure of the Yale Interdisciplinary Initiative for the Study of Antisemitism (YIISA), just five years after it opened its doors? “Yale has certainly made, and is making a contribution…through scholarly endeavors related to Jewish civilization, history and contemporary thought and issues,” he replied. “I point it out to add context.”
I have no doubt that Conroy made this statement with the best of intentions. However, his words reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of the very phenomenon which YIISA will no longer be able to probe. For any institution that invokes its munificence towards Jewish civilization, in answer to a question about its commitment to scholarly research on antisemitism, clearly doesn’t grasp what antisemitism is and what it represents.
One of the pitfalls of the contemporary antisemitism debate is that there is too much focus on intent.
Yup, we're in antisemitic in effect if not in intent territory. Ok, let's accept that. Does that still require a separate interdisciplinary initiative? Can antisemitism really not be dealt with by some of the "best friends" that Ben feels so slighted by.

But what is Yale saying about YIISA?
If scholarly enquiry into antisemitism is, then, a legitimate pursuit, what was the problem with YIISA? According to Yale, YIISA was an academic dud. Professor Donald Green, the director of Yale’s Institute for Social and Policy Studies (ISPS), said that YIISA’s papers failed to excite the interest of  “top-tier journals in behavioral science, comparative politics, or history.” Students were not attracted to its programs. Contrast that, Green went on, with another ISPS program “that straddles social science and humanities, Agrarian Studies, [and] has produced dozens of path-breaking scholarly books and essays.”
It's an "academic dud" and not very popular among students.  That seems fair enough  but not to Ben:

This is an unfair comparison. Few scholars will bat an eyelid at the mention of Agrarian Studies, whereas the idea of studying contemporary antisemitism — the “historical” kind is a little more acceptable — will meet with howls of disapproval in countless political science departments. Just by existing, YIISA was going against the grain. In that kind of environment, getting your papers published was never going to be easy.
YIISA, in point of fact, did produce some important scholarly work during its short life-span, including three outstanding papers by David Hirsh (on anti-Zionism and antisemitism), Bassam Tibi (on the Islamization of antisemitism), and Yaakov Kirschen, a.k.a the cartoonist “Dry Bones” (on antisemitism and ‘coded images’). Its regular seminars featured some of the leading thinkers on the subject, like Moishe Postone and Gregory Stanton. Those in the YIISA community with whom I spoke emphasized that they wanted to do even more, citing lack of resources as the main reason why they didn’t.
So why didn't they get the resources. Did they ask anyone and if so, who? We'll never know but Ben has only been warming up.

He knows the real reason for the closure and it was nothing to do with academia.

This is where the politics comes in. In my correspondence with Thomas Conroy, I pointed out that YIISA’s 2010 conference, which extensively examined antisemitic manifestations in Iran and in the wider Arab/Muslim world, had provoked angry responses from, among others, Maen Areikat, the PLO’s Washington representative, who ranted about “anti-Arab extremism and hate-mongering.” “Yale doesn’t make decisions about programs (or individual scholars) based on outside criticism,” Conroy told me.
Even if Conroy is correct here, Yale’s decisions resonate far beyond its ivory towers. It beggars belief that Yale’s academics did not pause to consider that closing YIISA would be interpreted by Areikat — a man who recycles the idiocy that Arabs cannot be antisemites because they are “Semites” — as a vindication of his attack. Moreover, Areikat was not alone. Among those joining the anti-YIISA clamor were Philip Weiss, the pea-brained anti-Zionist blogger sponsored by The Nation magazine, and his sidekick Ben White, a frankly creepy figure who couches his antisemitism in the language of Christian liberation theology. After the YIISA conference, this duo — of all people!! — whined about the “besmirching of Yale University by the presence of this festival of propaganda.”
Of course, were Yale to organize an academic conference on the subject of “Israeli apartheid,” Weiss, White et al. would be salivating at the prospect. For critics like these, academic integrity is only relevant when it boosts their argument.
Any dispassionate survey of the social sciences reveals that there is precious little “value-free” research going on anywhere. I only have to look at my own alma mater, the London School of Economics, which, inter alia, has accepted funding from the murderous Gadhafi regime, and gave the clownish Naomi Klein a fellowship. Or I could venture into upper Manhattan, where Joseph Massad’s Columbia University classes on Middle East politics are their own “festival of propaganda.” The point is, why pick on YIISA alone?
They run their propaganda, why can't we run ours? But the fact remains, YIISA was considered an academic dud.

Actually I don't think we've heard the last of this.  If the ADL and AJC are so concerned then perhaps they can fund the thing or find someone who can but meanwhile this, together with the recent UCU congress decision to ignore the EUMC bogus definition of antisemitism, is another blow to the antisemitism industry. We should be pleased about that.

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