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A Challenge to Yale University on Anti-Semitism

Yale University’s decision to shutter the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA) has been well-covered here at Commentary and elsewhere, so I don’t want to re-hash what everyone else has said. When living in Yale’s bubble, every decision may appear without consequence, but it is not: I just returned from a 10-day speaking tour in Australia and was surprised on my last day to be asked about the matter during a talk in Sydney.

That Yale officials explained the shut-down of YIISA by arguing it was too political is undercut by the pronouncements made by those applauding its closure. “The reason [for YIISA’s lack of success] was that it was political, had a strong political orientation,” sociology professor Jeffrey Alexander told the Yale Daily News. “[This orientation] was to defend the policies of the current conservative government [of Israel], and the whole post ‘67 tendency of Israel’s foreign policy, which is to occupy conquered territories, to continue the settlement movement.”

While Yale professors pat themselves on the back for their internationalist focus, too often their experience of the world derives from the New York Times and not from direct experience in countries like Pakistan, Turkey, Iran, or various Arab states for which anti-Semitism is as common as bread and butter. What may surprise Alexander is that the pogroms in 19th century Iran had nothing to do with Israel. They had everything to do with hatred of Jews.

Alas, anti-Semitism in the Middle East is a trend that continues. Ayatollah Khomeini’s writings are replete with venom toward Jews. Seldom do senior Iranian officials today limit their animus toward Israelis rather than world Jewry. Hence, Ali Mohammad Ramin, a press advisor to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, explains, Among the Jews there have always been those who killed God’s prophets and who opposed justice and righteousness. Historically, there are many accusations against the Jews. For example, it was said that they were the source for such deadly diseases as the plague and typhus. This is because the Jews are very filthy people. For a time people also said that they poisoned water wells belonging to Christians and thus killed them.

Likewise, in 2005, Iranian Ayatollah Nuri Hamadani declared, “One should fight the Jews and vanquish them so that the conditions for the advent of the Hidden Imam will be met.” Elsewhere, he explained, “Already from the beginning the Jews wanted to hoard the world’s goods in [their] greed and voracity. They always worked in important professions and now they have hoarded all of the wealth in one place. And all of the world, especially America and Europe, are their slaves.”  Alexander might not believe it, but Hamadani wasn’t talking about Netanyahu or settlements. Simply put, Israel isn’t the cause of anti-Semitism; efforts to de-legitimize Israel are simply a symptom.

Anyway, against the backdrop of the university’s decision to shut down the Institute and replace it with a program limited to the study of anti-Semitism against dead Jews rather than their living counterparts, and Yale University’s simultaneous efforts to raise funds from Arab countries (most recently $500,000 from Bahrain), perhaps it’s time Yale University to declare whether the programs, departments, and centers in which committee members judging YIISA sit have at any time in the past or present raised funds or sought to raise funds from countries or regions which YIISA has criticized.

Yale’s commitment to academic freedom and transparency requires no less. We will await Yale’s answer.


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