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.
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