Yale Announces New Program for the Study of Antisemitism to Replace Discredited YIISA

The Yale Provost, Peter Salovey, wrote to friends of the university on 20 June announcing the establishment of the Program for the Study of Antisemitism (YPSA), which will replace the axed Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism. He writes in his letter:

I have been gratified to learn that Professor Maurice Samuels and a group of faculty colleagues have expressed interest in the creation of a new scholarly enterprise, the Yale Program for the Study of Antisemitism (YPSA), and that the Whitney Humanities Center has agreed to sponsor it. Professor Samuels, who will convene YPSA, has written an award-winning book on Jewish fiction writers in France, and he is currently working on a major study of the portrayal of Jews in French literature and culture from the time of the Revolution through the present. Professor Samuels’s recent courses offered to Yale undergraduates have included ‘Jewish Identity and French Culture’ and ‘Representing the Holocaust.’

Pledging research support for students and faculty wishing to undertake serious work under the aegis of YPSA, the Provost continues:

YPSA will encourage serious scholarly discourse and collaborative research focused on antisemitism, one of the world’s oldest and most enduring prejudices, in all its forms. YPSA will be open to the entire Yale community.

I am hopeful that this program will produce major scholarship on the vitally important subject of antisemitism.

When the axing of YIISA was announced, after Yale’s faculty review committee concluded that its research and publications were not of sufficiently high quality, the Yale authorities indicated at the time that they would find some other means to continue serious research on antisemitism at the university. In the stampede to condemn Yale, its critics either ignored this message or dismissed it. Now that it looks certain that a new venture, headed by a Yale faculty member with excellent scholarly credentials, is to be set up, I wonder whether those who wildly accused Yale of all manner of nefarious reasons for closing YIISA will now withdraw their accusations and apologise? I’d advise Yale not to hold its breath.

Before giving unreserved credit to Yale, we do need to see exactly how the new operation will operate, what its research agenda will be, how it will be decided who is to be invited to give seminar papers and so on. But the initial indications are positive.

Nevertheless, the entire episode has sharply dramatised the degree to which contemporary antisemitism studies have been hi-jacked by people who put their political opinions and projects above the demands of objective scholarship. When the distinguished Holocaust historian Professor Deborah Lipstadt acknowledged that the work of YIISA had been infected by this tendency and wrote about it in an article for the Forward newspaper, the cries of pain and anger from those in denial of this truth, expressed in the form of disgusting, insulting and contemptible comments on her piece, were deafening.

What has transpired could present an opportunity for a thorough transformation: away from politically-driven pseudo-research to a much greater emphasis on and prevalence of dispassionate work in this area. But as Dr Jonathan Judaken commented on my original post on the YIISA closure, things are likely to get worse before they get better because

as the blog indicates, ‘Context is everything.’ And the context is on quicksand and the next couple of years in the Arab-Israeli conflict are going to be difficult and may be some of the most tragic yet. More than anything it is this context and comparative and historically sensitive frameworks that is missing from both sides in this rhetorical warfare.

Still, there are some encouraging signs that some sanity is returning to research on current antisemitism, strengthening the hand of the many scholars who have held fast to high standards. It would be to everyone’s benefit if that sanity ultimately prevails.

Follow me on Twitter: @tonylerman

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6 Responses to Yale Announces New Program for the Study of Antisemitism to Replace Discredited YIISA

  1. Ron says:

    Following your previous post on the issue I attempted to explore the presentation of Prof David Feldman in the now discredited YIISA 2010 conference. While his own paper did pass the threshold of a scholarly paper, I honestly cannot understand how he did not choose to leave the room given the name of the session he was part of and given the appalling words of the “scholars” who spoke before him. His presence unfortunately gave credence to this whole event and for that he owes us an open apology if we are to take him seriously in the new institute he heads. You too I believe should now qualify your previous words since they do not appear to have been based on a full exploration of the issues and event at stake. Besides, Prof Feldman does not disassociates himself enough from such right wing political advocates as Dr David Hirsh.

    You may see for yourself here:

    • Ron: I think there may be a misunderstanding here. The link you sent me rather misleadingly makes it look as if the session on Jewish self-hatred and the ‘Roundtable Discussions in the study of antisemitism’ were part of one package dealing with the same subject. As far as I am aware–and I confess I haven’t had time to view the video–the two sessions were entirely separate–one simply followed the other–and dealt with different subjects. Therefore the implication in your comment, that David Feldman associated himself with the subject of Jewish self-hatred, is incorrect. And I presume that your comment about his paper passing the threshold of being scholarly must bear this out.

      As for what you say about David Hirsh, I think that’s something you would need to take up directly with David Feldman since it’s not up to me to answer for him. Nevertheless, I’m certain that it’s a mis-characterisation of Hirsh to describe him as a ‘right wing political advocate’. Also, while I stand by the comments I made about his YIISA seminar paper, he does hold an academic position and I would have thought it against the spirit of open and free enquiry in academia for someone like David Feldman, or any other academic who may disagree strongly with Hirsh’s views, to avoid academic encounters with him. On the contrary, I would have thought it sensible for someone in David Feldman’s position to include David Hirsh in discussions about contemporary antisemitism in order that Hirsh’s views could be more effectively challenged. From my personal point of view, a look at David Feldman’s lecture given at the formal opening of the Pears Institute juxtaposed with a look at some of David Hirsh’s work would indicate that there are some fundamental differences between their approaches to the subject of antisemitism.

  2. Mark Elf says:

    Antony, is there any source other than this for the original Yale decision to close YIISA? The linked article is highly problematic containing such gems as “The decision to end the program has met criticism from groups across the nation that show support for Jewish people, such as the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League” and “several leaders of organizations that stand up against anti-Semitism have issued statements condemning Yale’s decision to close the initiative”, meaning again, the ADL and the AJC.

    Is there not a primary source for the original announcement.

    Thanks

  3. Mark: I’ve searched for an online version of the original announcement by Donald Green, head of the Institution for Social and Policy Studies, but can’t find anything. It seems to me that the Yale Daily News is a semi-official periodical so perhaps that indeed is the main source for the announcement.

    By the way, interesting follow-up story in the Yale Daily News on the orientation of YPSA, the YIISA replacement:

    http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2011/jun/23/new-antisemitism-program-have-more-scholarly-focus/

    Encourages belief that this new operation might well do serious, objective work. Not so good to hear that YIISA might find a home somewhere else, but it’s not surprising.

  4. Mark Elf says:

    I too spent a lot of time looking for an original statement. It’s a strange way to go public given that the writer of the first article was clearly so sympathetic to YIISA. The other article is very interesting indeed. I liked this:

    “The reason [for YIISA’s lack of success] was that it was political, had a strong political orientation,” Alexander said. “[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.”

    Anyway, thanks for your time.

  5. Bella Center says:

    Dear Tony,
    Please explain to me how YIISA’s ‘advocacy’ is any different in type from the ‘advocacy’ which seems to be the raison d’etre of, say, Columbia University’s new Center for Palestine Studies. Have a look at their programmes and spell it out for me, please. I’m not trying on some ‘whataboutery’, I just don’t seem to get it.

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