The backlash against Yale University’s decision to shut down its anti-Semitism institute has clearly embarrassed the school. The shuttering of the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism (YIISA) was widely criticized, especially by those who wondered whether the program’s willingness to touch on Jew hatred in the Arab and Muslim worlds led to its demise.
In response to this criticism, Yale has now announced it will launch a new program on anti-Semitism. The Yale Program for the Study of Anti-Semitism will be sponsored by the university’s Whitney Humanities Center. The Anti-Defamation League was satisfied with the announcement, though it expressed disappointment that Professor Charles Small, the man who conceived the idea for YIISA and led it, would not be involved in the project.
For his part, Small told the Jerusalem Post he was skeptical about the university’s intentions because it was not clear it would devote sufficient resources to the study of contemporary anti-Semitism rather than the safer discussion of past horrors. While Small, who is the injured party in this controversy, has an axe to grind here, he has a point. The Yale announcement–which emphasized the new program’s use of archive and library resources rather than active research about what is actually happening now–lends weight to Small’s complaint. Indeed, rather than allaying concerns about its attitude toward the study of anti-Semitism, the school’s decision to improvise a replacement for YIISA underlines the suspicions about the original reasons for closing down a program its leaders had praised only last year. If the new Yale program is merely going to do the same work as the old one, then it leads us to question why YIISA was shut down in the first place.
The idea it failed to provide adequate research is clearly bogus, as was the complaint those associated with YIISA had not published enough articles in scholarly publications. Given the prejudice against this topic, especially any focus on the targeting of Israel and Zionism for hatred in the academy, it is little surprise such journals had not embraced its work. The suspicion remains that YIISA’s decision to start a discussion about Muslim anti-Semitism angered potential Yale donors in the Arab world.
We hope the new Yale program will continue the work Small and YIISA started. But under these circumstances, it is hard to believe it will. If the first conference and publications of this revamped initiative don’t deal with Arab and Muslim Jew hatred, which remains the primary threat today, we will have our answer as to why its predecessor was shut down.