Yale project is the victim of a menacing zeitgeist – David Hirsh

At the Jewish Chronicle, David Hirsh writes:

Neither the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA) nor the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia’s (EUMC) working definition of antisemitism are perfect but they are vilified more for what they get right than what they get wrong.

Both are being dumped, one by Yale University, the other by the University and College Union. Anti-zionists who fear critical examination of the relationship between hostility to Israel and antisemitism are now happy. They say there is a conspiracy to smear critics of Israel as antisemites and they think that YIISA and the EUMC are parts of the “Israel lobby”. The fact that this mode of thinking appears plausible at the moment is a measure of the seriousness of our current situation.

The truth is more interesting, complex and surprising than the antisemitic fantasy. Until the 1960s, Yale was a white, waspish institution with a Jewish quota. But recently, YIISA has been a global centre for the scholarly discussion of contemporary antisemitism. It has hosted everybody, in an eclectic maelstrom of political and intellectual energy; academics, activists, journalists, lawyers and politicians.  [This following passage was cut by the JC – DH]  Robert Fine, Moishe Postone, Brian Cheyette, Lars Rensmann, David Seymour, Annette Seidel-Arpaci, Michael Waltzer, Catherine Chatterley, David Feldman and Martha Nussbaum all went to YIISA, radical antiracist scholars, who understand that critical theory was forged in the crucible of the struggle against antisemitism.  Dovid Katz, expert in the antisemitism which is portraying Holocaust perpetrators as anticommunist partisans; Deborah Lipstadt and Anthony Julius, scholars first, and heroes of the struggle against Holocaust denial; Jeffrey Herf, Esther Webman and Matthias Kuntzel who unearthed the evidence connecting Nazism to Islamism; Nora Gold and Phyllis Chesler who experienced and analyzed the back-stab of antisemitism in the feminist movement; the heavyweights of German anti-antisemitism; experts in Muslim, Islamist and Iranian antisemitism; veterans of Durban; the chroniclers of today’s British antisemitism, Shalom Lappin, Paul Iganski, David Cesarani, Michael Keith, Barry Kosmin and Mike Whine.

There were things wrong with YIISA but they should have been put right rather than mobilised as reasons to close it down. An interest in contemporary antisemitism is increasingly regarded as an indicator of vulgarity, dishonesty and selfish Jewish nationalism. Yale should have resisted this menacing anti-intellectual zeitgeist, not lent its own reputation to it.

Sometimes Americans have thought of the “new antisemitism” as an overseas phenomenon of degenerate Europe. Some American Jews, who had felt safe from antisemitism, will now be hurting.

5 Responses to “Yale project is the victim of a menacing zeitgeist – David Hirsh”

  1. Blacklisted Dictator Says:

    David Hirsch writes:

    “An interest in contemporary antisemitism is increasingly regarded as an indicator of vulgarity, dishonesty and selfish Jewish nationalism. Yale should have resisted this menacing anti-intellectual zeitgeist, not lent its own reputation to it.”

    This “anti-intellectual zeitgeist” treats freedom of expression with disdain and censors ideas that it does not want to hear. What is held hostage, goes far beyond Israel and diaspora Jewry.

  2. conchovor Says:

    ‘Some American Jews, who had felt safe from antisemitism, will now be hurting’

    They will begin to feel our fear.

  3. conchovor Says:


    Lipstadt on Yale anti-Semitism initiative: Advocacy sometimes trumped scholarship

    ‘Apparently, there were people on the Yale campus who were associated with YIISA and who were eager to have it succeed. These friends of YIISA counseled the institute’s leadership that some of its efforts had migrated to the world of advocacy from that of scholarship. They warned YIISA that it was providing fodder to the critics’ claim that it was not a truly academic endeavor.

    I have twice participated in YIISA’s activities. I gave a paper at one of its weekly seminar sessions on Holocaust denial and attended its conference last August. While serious scholars who work in this field gave the vast majority of the papers — and not dilettantes who dabble in it — there were a few presentations that gave me pause. They were passionate and well argued. But they were not scholarly in nature.

    According to sources at Yale, the university’s leadership unsuccessfully worked with YIISA in an attempt to rectify some of these issues. Part of Yale’s discomfort might have come from the fact that a Yale-based scholarly entity was administered by an individual who, while a successful institution builder, was not a Yale faculty member and who had no official position at the university. Yale has indicated that it is intent on axing YIISA and replacing it with an initiative that will address both anti-Semitism and its scholarly concerns. It is crucial that it do so particularly at a time when anti-Semitism worldwide is experiencing a growth spurt.’


  4. Joseph Says:

    Thanks David for this very important post, YIISA was really vital in ways we won’t realise fully until it is gone. Such a shame it has ended like this.

  5. Paul M Says:

    David, conchovor raises Deborah Lipstadt’s piece in the Forward, which suggests that at least part of what did for YIISA was a tendency to wander over the line from scholarship into advocacy. It would be interesting to hear your insider’s view of her analysis. Was this a significant issue and if so, how should a YIISA-replacement keep the dividing line clear, and guard against the problem in future?

    I think the question is interesting in its own right, but it occurs to me that a reliable general rule could also be used to assess any number of Middle Eastern Studies departments (which mostly don’t seem to be too closely scrutinised by their own universities for the corresponding sin).

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