Powered by WebAds

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Did Yale shut its program on anti-Semitism to keep Iran happy?

There were two important post-mortems on the closure of the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism (YIISA) that came out this week. One, written by Tel Aviv-based Yale alumnus James Kirchick, and based on numerous interviews with Yale faculty and other insiders, suggests that Yale may have shut down the center for loudly offending Iran.
While Small pinpoints the “Crisis of Modernity” conference as the final nail in the coffin of his baby, a meeting prior to the conference in the early spring of last year was the first sign things were going badly. That January, the Iranian government placed [10] Yale on a blacklist, along with dozens of other “subversive” international organizations like the U.S. government-funded and Democratic Party-aligned National Democratic Institute, the Open Society Institute, and the BBC. What the university ought to have seen as a badge of honor, however, it seems to have taken as a lost investment opportunity, at least according to Small. Just a few months after the Iranian government put Yale on its blacklist, he was called into a meeting with a senior administration official, who told Small that the Yale Corporation, the university’s governing board, “was upset with me because Iran put us on this list. Once a member of the Yale community interferes with the others in the community,” Small was told, “this is a problem.”

While any large university is bound to be concerned about its public image, the notion that Yale would care so much about how it is perceived by a rogue regime like Iran strikes many as far-fetched. But Yale is especially sensitive when it comes to its image with foreign nations, even autocratic ones. For over a century—beginning with the establishment of a Yale-affiliated Christian missionary program in China in 1901—and especially under the near-two-decade presidency of Richard Levin, Yale has aspired to be the global university. Early in his term, Levin launched the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization in New Haven with a former President of Mexico, Ernesto Zedillo, at the helm, and created a World Fellows program that brings dozens of mid-career professionals to spend a semester in New Haven. Levin has focused particularly, and controversially, on China; his official biography [11] notes that he has visited the country 15 times in the last 10 years. More contentiously, and for no real compelling reason, Yale initiated a partnership last year with the National University of Singapore to create a new liberal arts school in that police state to be called Yale-NUS College. Though Yale, like many other universities, operates a variety of study abroad programs, this is the first such program in which the Yale name is being lent to an educational institution overseas. It is not farfetched to imagine that a university that had decided to stake its global future on staying in the good graces of autocracies like China and Singapore would see Iran’s protests as a meaningful threat.

Critics of Yale’s decision to close YIISA point to several other ominous events as confirmation that the university has a growing soft spot for authoritarians. In January 2006 it was revealed [12] that Yale had bid for a $20 million donation from Saudi Arabian Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal to start an Islamic studies center, losing out to Harvard and Georgetown. In 2009, Yale University Press decided not to print cartoons of the prophet Muhammed in a book about the controversy that ensued over their being published by a Danish newspaper (a decision for which I took the university to task [13] at the time). Last September, just weeks after the conclusion of the YIISA conference, Yale lecturer Hillary Mann Leverett brought the students in her “U.S.-Iranian Diplomacy” graduate seminar to meet personally with Ahmadinejad, who was attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Leverett and her husband, Flynt, both former State Department and National Security Council officials, are the two most high-profile defenders [14] of the Iranian regime in Washington, and they were chosen last year as inaugural senior fellows of Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, yet another prong in Yale’s transformation into a global university. Leverett told [15] the Yale Daily News at the time that her students learned the Holocaust-denying Iranian President is “not a crazy, irrational leader.” Hardly a peep of protest was heard about this meeting on the Yale campus, certainly not from faculty or the administration.

In the months leading up to the August YIISA conference, other senior Yale administration officials made it clear to Small that they were annoyed with his work. One such official told Small last summer that there “shouldn’t be a center on anti-Semitism, maybe it should be a center on discrimination” more generally, Small said. Small said this official also told him that “we have to engage Islam, and not be too critical of Islam and that YIISA had been too critical of Islam.” Another senior Yale official, responsible for helping to publicize the conference, told Small that “at this stage in my life I can do whatever I want. I don’t have to listen to anybody. And I just want you to know that I was a roommate of [Columbia University professor and Palestinian advocate] Rashid Khalidi in college,” according to Small.
Read the whole thing.

Meanwhile, University of Maryland Professor Jeffrey Herf worries that what happened to YIISA is a symptom of a far bigger problem: The inability of scholars who combine a deep knowledge of Islam and the history of the modern Middle East to receive tenure unless they are willing to support the Islamists.
Which brings me back to the criticisms of YIISA’s focus on anti-Semitism in the Middle East and Islamist ideology, and how these fit into the question of whether the center was sufficiently “scholarly.” The focus on this sort of anti-Semitism meant that, from the start, YIISA was sailing against the prevailing winds in the academy. Once Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatened to wipe Israel off the map while Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons, the Jewish community and Israel’s non-Jewish supporters in the United States reacted with understandable alarm. This magazine and some of the editors of The Washington Post have also focused on the threat from Iran. But it is a fair statement to say that, in recent years, however unpleasant American scholars think Iran may be, it is the policies of Israel that have been the primary target of much academic opinion.

Unfortunately, this points to the fact that scholars who combine deep knowledge of Islam and the history of the modern Middle East, such as Bernard Lewis, Fouad Ajami, and Martin Kramer, have not been able to produce a successor generation who can swim against the current, get academic positions, gain tenure, and support research into these matters. Or, if such scholars are present, they have, as far as I know, not addressed these issues in the past decade or so. There has been, to use Paul Berman’s apt phrase, a “flight of the intellectuals” away from engagement with the issues posed by Islamist ideology and politics, including its oft-declared hatred of the Jews. Indeed, rather than engendering thoughtful discussion, posing the issue of Arab, Iranian, or Islamist anti-Semitism, quickly leads to accusations of “anti-Arab racism” and “Islamophobia.”
Read the whole thing.

Jews ought to be seriously concerned about what happened to YIISA. It means that the world is very happy to discuss dead Jews, but not so interested in discussing how to save living ones from those who would murder us. The world sees other matters as much more important.

What could go wrong?

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home