Controversy Erupts Over Closing of YIISA

By: Fern Sidman

The hallowed halls of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut were rocked with controversy last week when it was announced that a well respected scholarly program called the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism (YIISA) was scheduled to be terminated. In a statement issued by the iconic ivy league institution, Donald Green, a political science professor at Yale and Director of the Institution for Social and Policy Studies, said that the decision was predicated upon YIISA “generating little scholarly work that earned publication in highly regarded journals and its courses attracted few students.” Citing the Center for the Study of Race, Inequality and Politics as another example of an “underachieving program,” Dr. Green said that “YIISA suffered the same fate because it failed to meet high standards for research and instruction.”

These allegations have been zealously disputed by a veritable repertioire of top-tier academics, Jewish leaders and political commentators who have suggested that the university acquiesced to the strongly worded critiques of YIISA programs by leading Muslim personalities and organizations. Referencing the seminal and highly enlightening 2010 YIISA sponsored conference entitled, “Global Antisemitism: A Crisis of Modernity,” Abby Wisse Schachter writes in a New York Post op-ed piece of June 7th that studying “Christian anti-Semitism is fine; political Jew-hatred, like communist or fascist anti-Semitism, no problem. But get anywhere near Muslim or Middle Eastern anti-Semitism, as presenters at YIISA’s conference did last year, and you’ve crossed the line.”

Schachter also imputes a conspiratorial tone to the decision to shut YIISA’s doors by reporting that subsequent to the conference, “the PLO representative in America scolded the school’s president, Richard Levin, complaining of the attention paid to anti-Semitism among Palestinians and Muslims.” The PLO “ambassador” in question, Maen Rashid Areikat expressed his umbrage to Levin in a letter saying, “It’s shocking that a respected institution like Yale would give a platform to these right-wing extremists and their odious views. I urge you to publicly dissociate yourself and Yale University from the anti-Arab extremism and hate-mongering that were on display during this conference.”

The conference addressed the virulent nature of Islamic anti-Semitism, considered by experts in the field to be the most pernicious manifestation of modern-day global antipathy. Anti-Semitism in the Western academy was also meticulously examined and hundreds of pages of research materials were produced.

Led by the renowned sociologist Charles Small, YIISA was established in 2006 as the largest research unit in North America devoted to a nuanced exploration of anti-Semitism in its various incarnations with a focus on its urgent contemporary significance. Its clearly defined stated mission was “to explore this subject matter in a comprehensive, interdisciplinary framework from an array of approaches and perspectives as well as regional contexts.”

Each year, respected scholars who have published monographic studies on anti-Semitism have gathered for YIISA sponsored colloquiums. Among those scholars attached to YIISA programs include Irwin Cotler, the former Canadian Attorney General and Minister of Justice, David Hirsh of Goldsmiths College in London, Phyllis Chesler, emerita professor of psychology and women’s studies at the City University of New York and Bassam Tibi, emeritus professor of international relations at the University of Goettingen.

The Jerusalem Post’s deputy managing editor Caroline Glick states in a June 9th article entitled, “Yale, Jews and Double Standards” that, “politics were in all likelihood the decisive factor in the decision” to close YIISA and adds that, “like nearly all university campuses in the US, Yale is dominated by the political Left.” Pointing to a possible causal relationship between YIISA’s programs and a boycott imposed upon Yale, Ms. Glick writes, “In January 2010, Iran announced that it was instituting a boycott of 60 institutions. Yale was among them. Although the regime did not explain the reason for the boycott, university officials attributed Tehran’s decision to YIISA’s activities in spotlighting the regime’s role in promoting genocidal anti-Semitism. Due to the boycott, Yale professors involved in research in Iran were forced to end their activities. These professors reportedly blamed YIISA rather than Iran for the cancellation of their research projects.”

Ms. Schachter of the New York Post corroborates Yale’s affinity with the Iranian regime by saying that in 2009 “a lecturer at Yale’s new Jackson Center for Global Affairs (Hillary Mann Leverett) took her graduate students to New York to visit with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad explained to the students that there is no hard scientific proof that the Holocaust happened.”

As a participant at various YIISA conferences, Dr. Phyllis Chesler calls the closing “a tragedy” and remarks in a June 13th article entitled, “Islam and Anti-Semitism at Yale” that appeared on the FrontPage Mag web site, “Yale has rendered racism respectable, has contributed to the academic isolation of scholars of contemporary anti-Semitism, and snuffed out truth-telling, genuine dissent, free speech, and academic freedom. This will be a permanent stain on Yale and on American academia.” Also offering realistic explanations for motivations behind Yale’s decision, Dr. Chesler said, “There is one other reason that Yale felt it could get away with shutting YIISA down. For nearly 50 years, Arab, Saudi, and Palestinian money men have patiently, carefully, silently, funded the American professoriate and media.”

Elaborating on this notion was Alex Joffe, who, in an June 13th article titled, “Anti-Semitism and Man at Yale”, said, “Yale has long been seeking support from wealthy Arab donors..In particular, it has wooed Saudi Prince Alwaleed ibn Talal, who in 2005 gave $20 million apiece to Harvard and Georgetown for Islamic-studies programs. (Yale, which competed vigorously for the prize, made it to the final round.) Spotlighting the authentic “educational” agenda of Muslim nations and rulers, Mr. Joffe adds, “true to their donors’ intent, such academic programs are faithful disseminators of the “narrative” of Muslim victimization. In the same connection, it should likewise be borne in mind that in 2009, alerted to the imminent publication by its own press of a scholarly book on the Danish-cartoons controversy, the Yale administration summarily intervened to yank images of the cartoons from the final product—on the grounds that their appearance might elicit “violence.”

Jewish organizations also weighed in on the decision to close YIISA. David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee said, “We hope Yale will review this unfortunate decision so that YIISA’s critical work can continue. In our experience working with YIISA, AJC has been impressed by the level of scholarly discourse, the involvement of key faculty, and the initiative’s ability, through conferences and other programs, to bring a wide range of voices to the Yale campus.”

Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League of Bnai Brith offered a rueful observation of Yale’s decision by saying, “Especially at a time when anti-Semitism continues to be virulent and anti-Israel parties treat any effort to address issues relating to anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism as illegitimate, Yale’s decision is particularly unfortunate and dismaying.”

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