(by Matthew Knee)
Yale recently announced the closing of the The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA), America’s first academic institute to study anti-Semitism, citing a lack of scholarly output and student interest. The overall Jewish community, and some newspaper columnists, are up in arms, claiming conspiracy.
However, YIISA could not have succeeded so long as the Yale student body, especially the Jewish community, remained unwilling to hear the ideologically-inconvenient truths about a hatred that disproportionally exists in communities that leftists love to love. YIISA events were sparsely attended by Yale students, and apparently, relevant classes were underenrolled as well. Those who point out that the PLO condemned a YIISA conference on global anti-Semitism fail to note that the Jewish community at Yale did not come to YIISA’s defense in any significant way. While I found many references to the controversy searching the Yale Daily News web site, I found no examples of the organized Yale Jewish community standing up for YIISA.
I recall talking with other Jewish students about YIISA, including some who were directly involved. The complaints I heard were consistent. Yale students consider the study of anti-Semitism of the sort YIISA examined to be a “right wing” pursuit. They complained that YIISA was too focused on Europeans leftists, Israel-haters, and particularly, Muslims.
This was unsurprising considering the far left nature of the Yale Jewish Community. While I was on campus, Yale Friends of Israel (YFI), Yale’s allegedly pro-Israel student organization, had so big a tent that one of their leaders told me, at the height of the controversy over “The Israel Lobby,” that even Walt and Mearshimer’s views should be welcomed as a form of pro-Israel viewpoint. This was met with approval by nearby YFI members.
YFI has not been all bad. It does engage in some pro-Israel programs in addition to anti-Israel ones, especially cosponsoring pro-Israel events that were happening anyway, such as YIISA events or the Yale stop on the Dershowitz book tour du jour, or letting various outside Jewish organizations come present their usual inreach and training programs. However, Yale’s Jewish organizations have consistently failed to advocate for Israel or the Jewish community in a public and aggressive fashion when it was not politically correct to do so.
YFI takes pride in never having real conflict with the Muslim community on campus, despite the views prevalent in that demographic. Yale Friends of Israel wrote, regarding their relationship with Yale’s Muslim community at the end of 2008-2009 school year “We go out of our way not to step on each other’s toes.” They noted that all their events that year were met “without protests or demonstrations by student groups,” before going on to note one exception – a pro-Israel speech during the Gaza war that Yale the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale (Slifka) forced off campus due to “security concerns.” They emphasize though that they were not a sponsor of the event. The implication is clear – they avoid conflict with the Muslim community by minimizing pro-Israel activity, but the Muslim community and their allies apparently do not reciprocate when some trouble-maker decides to side with Israel when it really matters.
The organized Jewish community instead participated in the Interfaith Vigil for Palestine, although the then-president of YFI was quick to note that he considered it “a vigil in hopes of peace and in prayer for the victims in both Gaza and in Israel.” Right. I’m sure that’s exactly how the organizers, who, after all, named the event “Interfaith Vigil for Palestine,” saw it.
Last year, YFI held an event “in conjunction” with Israel Apartheid Week, featuring an anti-Israel documentary which “explores the subject of discrimination and land-use planning in Jerusalem, which is at the core of both the overall conflict and the apartheid debate,” after which they could discuss among themselves how Apartheid is too strong a word.
When Rahmatullah Hashemi, a former Taliban spokesman, spent a year as a Yale student, the Jewish community defended his presence on campus. Amy Aaland, then-Exectutive Director of Slifka, told John Fund “It’s a chance to learn about him and his culture. Dialogue starts at a table. You have to share a meal together.” She also noted that “it’s not like the Taliban attacked this country,” and was untroubled by his view that Israel is America’s Al-Qaeda (our agent of terrorism against the Muslim world) noting that this view is common at Yale. Aaland also said about Hashemi “why not come from a place of trust, break out of old molds and consider him innocent until proven guilty?,” despite Hashemi’s role as a Taliban propagandist being beyond dispute.
More recently, Slifka head Rabbi James Ponet (who officiated at Chelsea Clinton’s wedding) and a group called Jews and Muslims at Yale (JAM) hosted Ground Zero Mosque Imam Rauf. YFI and JAM endorsed Rauf, claiming that “it is difficult to see why anyone has ever had a problem with the cleric or his organization. Nevertheless, they note that while “Rauf consistently shrugged off” questions “about militant Jihad and those strands of xenophobia present in Islam…we never felt that the imam was avoiding these questions for political reasons; rather, it quickly became clear that these were simply not important parts of his religious vision.” Oooookay then.
I could find more examples, but this post is long as it is. Why must the left-wing Jewish community at Yale engage in such logical contortions to deny Muslim anti-Semitism and preserve their friendship with the organized Muslim community? I believe that it preserves their view of the world, their place in it, and their sense of right and wrong. Both the Jewish past and the leftist present militate towards supporting those viewed as oppressed minorities, and leftist philosophies, rooted in particular views of relative power and the desire to overturn traditional hierarchies, rate Muslims as more oppressed than Jews, especially Israelis. Palestinian propagandists and terror apologists have internalized this lesson, portraying their opponents as bigots, Islamophobes, imperialists, and oppressors.
The reality of anti-Semitism, however, is that it is more prevalent among those groups leftists identify with out of what they wrongly believe to be anti-bigotry sentiment. The left-leaning Anti-Defamation League and others find that despite problems in the past, anti-Semitism in American Evangelical Christian community is no higher than the general population, but anti-Semitism among American minorities is vastly higher than American whites. At least regarding certain money matters, Democrats are more Anti-Semitic than Republicans, and priming anti-Semitic beliefs is associated with increased opposition to corporate tax cuts. And of course, anti-Semitism in the Muslim Middle East is nearly universal.
I’m not saying that the Jewish community should develop new prejudices or seek out hostile relations with other groups, but that they need to reject these (ironically) racialist viewpoints entirely. Fighting anti-Semitism is not compatible with a compulsion to back “the right side” as the left sees it. It is compatible with recognizing threats and challenges, and dealing with them rationally.
Those who are concerned with anti-Semitism need to look past the closing of YIISA and to the fact that leftism is crippling the Jewish community’s ability to combat anti-Semitism. All the information in the world will do no good if people refuse to take it to heart.
*Disclosure: Professor Donald Green, who operates YIISA’s parent organization, The Institute for Social and Policy Studies (ISPS), is my academic adviser. I have not discussed the matter with him in order to ensure and to emphasize that I am in NO WAY speaking for him or for ISPS. I have received money from ISPS in the past, although have not done so recently.
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