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Jews decry Yale closing anti-Semitism study center

By Jordana Horn, The Jerusalem Post
June 9, 2011

NEW YORK – Leaders of the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism (YIISA) at Yale University were notified last week that the center was to be closed at the end of July, sparking a fierce round of objections, suspicions and conjectures in the US Jewish community, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

The Yale Initiative is intended to research international origins and manifestations of anti-Semitism, as well as other forms of prejudice. As part of Yale’s Institution for Social and Policy Studies, the initiative also disseminates its findings and research to contribute to policy discussions.

The program was the first US-based institute to research global anti-Semitism, ranging from anti-Israel and anti-Zionism manifestations thereof to other forms of hatred expressed against Jews.

“The short story is this initiative, directed by a non-faculty instructor, was found in its routine faculty review to not have met its academic expectations and has been canceled,” Thomas Mattia of Yale’s Office of Public Affairs told the Post. “This singular action should be viewed in the context of all the continuing work in Hebrew studies at Yale and the provost’s pledge to fund other studies in the area of anti-Semitism.”

Sources who preferred to remain anonymous, however, said the closing of the center resulted from the center’s politically incorrect activities – that is, taking Muslims to task for anti- Semitic and anti-Jewish sentiments.

Yale, sources conjectured, had been angling to mend fences with the Middle Eastern Muslim population, and the Yale Initiative was a thorn in the university’s side.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said the center’s closure was particularly disappointing in light of the recent upward trends in anti-Semitism around the world.

“Whatever purported issues and problems arose regarding the Yale Interdisciplinary Center, what was required was a concerted effort to work out the problems rather than ending the program,” Foxman said in a statement. “Especially at a time when anti-Semitism continues to be virulent and anti-Israel parties treat any effort to address issues relating to anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism as illegitimate, Yale’s decision is particularly unfortunate and dismaying.

“The decision to end the Center was a bad one on its own terms, but it is even worse because it leaves the impression that the anti-Jewish forces in the world achieved a significant victory,” Foxman said.

Lobbying efforts are apparently under way to get Yale to reconsider its decision, sources said.

“We hope Yale will review this unfortunate decision so that YIISA’s critical work can continue,” American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris said.

“In our experience working with YIISA, AJC has been impressed by the level of scholarly discourse, the involvement of key faculty, and the initiative’s ability, through conferences and other programs, to bring a wide range of voices to the Yale campus.”

The Yale Initiative has been an important resource for understanding anti-Semitism, especially in its contemporary manifestations, Harris said.

“YIISA has made considerable contributions to the study of this immense contemporary challenge and lent Yale’s considerable reputation to an issue that remains quite serious,” he said. “If Yale now leaves the field, it will create a very regrettable void.”

Other activists working against anti-Semitism agreed.

“This is a big deal and a major travesty,” Ken Marcus, director of the Initiative to Combat Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israelism in America’s Educational Systems at the Institute for Jewish and Community Research, told the Post. “YIISA was the most important university-based anti-Semitism research institution in North America. The decision to close it was clearly political, and it smells very bad. I hope it gets wide attention.”

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