Tuesday, June 21, 2011


By Scholars for Peace in the Middle East Board of Directors

June 20, 2011

In response to Yale University's abrupt and thus far poorly explained termination of the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism (YIISA), Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), representing a worldwide grassroots community of academics from across many disciplines, notes Yale University's announcement that it is establishing the Yale Program for the Study of Anti-Semitism (YPSA) and wishes it success. Nevertheless, SPME remains gravely concerned about the handling of the YIISA and registers significant concerns about the new organization.

During its brief five-year existence, YIISA had gotten off to a spectacular start with much promise ahead. SPME hopes that YPSA can achieve similar success but remains concerned that the manner in which Yale handled YIISA may create obstacles for YPSA. SPME attributes YIISA’s success to four critical factors upon which YPSA’s success or failure will depend: contemporary focus, global reach, substantial resources, and intensive activity.

First, YIISA wisely and courageously focused on the contemporary resurgence of global anti-Semitism. Many anti-Semitism scholars admired YIISA’s effectiveness in tackling the difficult and politically charged issue of 21st century anti-Semitism. These achievements not only enhanced Yale’s prestige but also strengthened our understanding of this pressing contemporary problem. If YPSA greatly illuminates the long history of anti-Semitism but fails to address its current manifestations, it will be judged a failure.

Second, YIISA set high ambitions for itself. It was not merely a study group for faculty at one university, but a global center which brought together scholars from many nations and disciplines. Contrary to what Yale spokespersons have suggested, YIISA’s scholarship was internationally influential, and its fellows madeintellectual contributions to the countries and communities to which they returned. If YPSA provides a productive hub for Yale faculty but fails to engage the international community of anti-Semitism scholars, it will be judged a failure.

Third, YIISA attracted sufficient outside funding to operate at a large scale, conducting major international conferences, attracting numerous visiting scholars, and preparing to launch an international journal. Yale’s handling of YIISA has reportedly alienated many of its outside funders, so Yale must now invest its own significant resources in order for YPSA to achieve its important mission. If YPSA provides a provincial home for anti-Semitism research but fails to gain sufficient funding to operate at YIISA’s level of engagement, it will be judged a failure.

Fourth, YIISA was intensely active in generating, promoting and supporting anti-Semitism scholarship around the world. This intensive activity was due to the energy and creativity of its founding director, Charles A. Small. Dr. Small led YIISA to immense productivity while simultaneously serving as a lecturer in political science, a thesis advisor to undergraduate students, a busy academic author and an internationally recognized speaker. In light of the manner in which Small has been treated, questions remain as to whether YPSA’s leadership will be empowered to achieve similar success. If YPSA generates respectable scholarship at Yale but fails to take active international leadership in the study of anti-Semitism, it will be judged a failure.

YPSA will be judged a success if it can address all forms of anti-Semitism, including contemporary anti-Semitism in its many manifestations; if it can set and satisfy ambitious goals for global engagement; if it can obtain an adequate funding base from Yale; and if it can assume a position of global leadership similar to YIISA’s achievements.

In order to provide YPSA with a fair chance for success, Yale must provide a full accounting of its treatment of YIISA. Great disappointment has been expressed that Yale gave YIISA not only very short notice of termination, but also very little explanation for the decision or chance for appeal. We, therefore, call on Yale President Richard C. Levin to allow a full, independent and transparent accounting of this action with opportunity for a full review and public response to this decision by YIISA’s management.

The Yale community and the international scholarly community should be told why Yale chose to terminate rather than to strengthen YIISA’svaluable academic inquiry in such a deplorably underserved but essential area of study. Substantial evidence available to the public has led some observers to speculate on a non-scholarly, indeed politically driven motivation for Yale’s decision. To facilitate a transparent discussion, and to lay these rumors to rest, we call on Yale to disclose the Institute review report to YIISA’s Director, Advisory Board, and faculty. And we ask that independent inquiry be launched to review Yale’s handling of YIISA.

Anti-Semitism may be the oldest of enduring human hatreds. Examination of the roots and unanticipated contemporary resurgence of anti-Semitism is a critical academic endeavor not just for Jews, but for anyone grappling with the volatile phenomena of modernity. Jews traditionally are an early target of people who use hatred to incite genocide, but they are never the last. The Nazis murdered 6 million Jews, but the total collateral damage caused by their technologically-endowed insanity included an additional 24 million dead. It therefore behooves the modern academy to pay close attention to paranoid Jew hatred.

We also call on other universities to house and build on YIISA’s achievements and to invest in contemporary anti-Semitism scholarship. Europe does better by anti-Semitism studies than the United States. Scholarly institutions should promptly step forward to develop interdisciplinary approaches to the study of this fascinating, repellent, and urgent current problem.

Statement on SPME Website

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