The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism (YIISA) was established nearly five years ago, the fourth university center in the world devoted to the subject ( after the Technical University of Berlin, and Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University ) and the first in the United States. Now, in a surprise announcement, Yale is eliminating the center because it “failed to meet high standards for research and instruction,” according to an official statement.
If so, why terminate the program, rather than give it a chance to improve? The decision followed what was deemed a negative review report, a document Yale has so far declined to release.”Yale is strongly committed to freedom of speech, which gives rise to a rich diversity of views on campus.” So spoke Frances Rosenbluth, deputy provost for social sciences and faculty development, rationalizing the university’s decision .Yet, as the disgraceful OCR/DKE affair reveals, Yale is not “committed to freedom of speech,” strongly or otherwise. Why, then, did Rosenbluth elect to justify the YIISA decision by painting a misleading picture of the campus climate?
The decision has prompted an outcry from national Jewish organizations. The ADL’s Abraham Foxman correctly noted that “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.” American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris added that his organization “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,” and worried that “if Yale now leaves the field, it will create a very regrettable void.” Indeed, Rosenbluth herself had said, just last year, that YIISA was “guided by an outstanding group of scholars from all over the university representing many different disciplines.”
Interdisciplinarity is a buzzword on contemporary college campuses, and it’s unusual to see a university terminate an interdisciplinary program that has strong support off-campus and has put together a high-profile, very well-attended conference on the organization’s topic. (Speakers came from around the world, including the University of Vienna; the University of Ouagadougou; the University of Warwick; the Polish Academy of Sciences; the University of Sao Paulo; the Universidad Nacional de Buenos Aire; McGill University; Bar-Ilan University; and the Simon-Dubnow-Institute for Jewish History and Culture, Germany.) Given Rosenbluth’s misleading rationalization of the decision, could there be another reason for Yale’s action?
A glance at the presenters from YIISA’s 2010 conference gives a clue. Presenters included Jeffrey Herf, author of the extraordinary Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World; Anne Herzberg of the incomparable NGO Monitor, which regularly has exposed the anti-Israel biases of groups such as Human Rights Watch; and Jonathan Fighel, of the IDC’s International Institute for Counter Terrorism, whose area of expertise involves anti-Semitic rhetoric and recruitment among Palestinian organizations.
This line of inquiry—anti-Semitic activity in the Muslim world—is very much out of favor among campus ideologues. And, as Abby Wisse Schacter pointed out in yesterday’s New York Post, YIISA’s conference generated criticism from expected quarters. Maen Rashid Areikat, the PLO’s chief diplomatic representative to the United States, officially complained about the conference to Yale President Richard Levin. Yaman Salahi, a Yale Law student, wildly claimed that the “conference provided a platform for anti-Arab and anti-Muslim speakers,” and even spread “racism.” In a bow to the boycott-divestment-sanctions movement, he criticized YIISA for allowing Israel’s two leading universities, Tel Aviv University and Hebrew University, to co-sponsor the conference. The two institutions, he asserted, have a “persistent legacy of anti-Arab racism.” Yale, Salahi concluded, needed to “be especially sensitive” to the feelings of its Muslim students—and presumably censor campus opinions that might cause offense. One wonders what Deputy Provost Rosenbluth thought of Salahi’s remarks—which were prominently posted, on the Yale Law School official “news” webpage.
Perhaps Yale’s official version is correct, and the decision to terminate YIISA was based solely on a dispassionate academic analysis, wholly unrelated to campus ideological pressures or the dictates of political correctness. But the university’s decision not to release the review report, coupled with Rosenbluth’s rationalization of the decision by citing a free-speech climate that doesn’t exist at Yale, raises more questions than answers.