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.