Light & Verity

Anti-Semitism research center is closed

In 2006, when the university announced the creation of the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA), Donald Green predicted that it was “sure to attract top scholars and generate valuable discussion and research.” Five years later, Yale has pulled the plug on the center, citing academic inadequacy.

“The main enterprise of an academic center is research,” says Green, director of the Institution for Social and Policy Studies (ISPS), which housed the center. “The problem with YIISA is, there just wasn’t any.” In its five years of existence, the initiative produced eight “working papers,” none by Yale faculty. The university administration decided to terminate YIISA after a specially appointed faculty review committee found that it “had not stimulated or supported sufficient faculty research and scholarship to warrant its continuance,” according to a university statement. The shutdown, which was reported in June, takes effect at the end of the summer.

Some national Jewish organizations criticized the move. “It leaves the impression,” said Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League in a press release, “that the anti-Jewish forces in the world achieved a significant victory.”

As this issue went to press, the university announced a “new scholarly enterprise,” the Yale Program for the Study of Antisemitism, to be convened by Professor Maurice Samuels. The ADL issued a statement welcoming the new program.

Green says he consistently told YIISA director Charles Small over the years that the program’s research needed to appear in top-level journals. A year ago, seeing no progress, Green was ready to shut YIISA down, “or at least push it out of ISPS.” Instead, the administration appointed the review committee, but eventually came to the same conclusion.

Small didn’t respond to a request for comment. But critics of the decision maintain that YIISA was living up to its promise by sponsoring seminars, lectures, and, last year, an international conference. Abby Wisse Schachter wrote in the New York Postthat Yale axed YIISA because it “refused to ignore the most virulent, genocidal, and common form of Jew-hatred today: Muslim anti-Semitism.”

The charge that “Muslim political pressure—whatever the hell that is—was used to kill YIISA” is “nonsense,” Green responds.

YIISA did, in fact, draw political criticism from liberal Jewish faculty members at Yale. “We felt it was very ideological,” says one of those critics, sociologist Jeffrey Alexander. He considers anti-Semitism “well worth studying” and agreed to sit on YIISA’s faculty advisory committee. But in his view, “YIISA confused anti-Semitism with criticism of Israeli foreign and domestic policies. It seemed to us like it was a political rather than a scholarly vehicle.”

Politics aside, Green notes that ISPS previously shut down two other programs—the Program on Nonprofit Organizations and the Center for the Study of Race, Inequality, and Politics—“because they failed to meet high standards for research and instruction.” YIISA, he adds, “suffered the same fate.”  


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