Scholarship, Advocacy, and Antisemitism – about YIISA and Yale,  June 26, 2011

Scholarship, Advocacy, and Antisemitism –

about YIISA and Yale


By Dr. Clemens Heni (Post-Doctoral Researcher at YIISA in 2008/2009)


Early in June 2011 Yale University decided to shut down the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA) by the end of July 2011. Many newspapers, the radio, and other media reported about this decision. The debate about the Yale decision to kill YIISA started on June 6, 2011, with an article by Abby Wisse Schachter. Many journalists, organizations, and scholars joined the cause. The Zionist Organization of America, the American Jewish Committee, The Anti Defamation League are among them. Professor Alvin Rosenfeld has written an open letter to Yale, urging the university to keep YIISA. Professor, feminist, and bestseller author Phyllis Chesler is shocked about the “Palestinianization and Stalinization of the American professoriate,” and Caroline Glick focuses on donors to think twice where to give money in the future. Alex Joffe is upset about the decision of Yale, the same holds for journalists and publicists Ben Cohen or Benjamin Weinthal.

British anti-Zionist Anthony Lerman, though, is happy about Deborah Lipstadt. He embraces her because the historian from Emory University in Atlanta attacks YIISA and “advocacy,” rather than the decision of Yale. I will discuss Lipstadt later in this article.

Harvard Professor and YIISA Board member Alan Dershowitz says in an interview with another keynote speaker of the August 2010 conference at YIISA “Global Anti Semitism: A Crisis of Modernity”, David F. Nesenoff:

“I think some of the blame lies not only with the Jewish faculty members but with pro Israel faculty members who are too frightened to speak up because it makes them unpopular. You pay a price on campus today for being pro Israel. Even I pay a price for that.“

Yale has a long history of antisemitism. Dershowitz says:

“The slogan of Yale was “urim v’tumim” [light and truth] in Hebrew. The joke was if you could read it, you can’t go there. The college had an overt quota system. I was not in the college. I couldn’t get into the college obviously. When I went to the law school there was overt anti-Semitism in the hiring process by law firms. And there were secret clubs that didn’t allow in Jews. That was 50 years ago. Yale has a terrible legacy of anti-Semitism, which should make it sensitive to the issue.”

Dershowitz blames Yale, for good reason:

“The university should have sought public input from faculty and other people. For example, I’m an alum; I’m a member of the Board of Advisors. I never got a phone call. I was never asked my views on this matter. I’ve spoken for them. You would think that the University might call me and others like me, or at least get our input. They didn’t.“

There are other scholars, though, who prefer to blame YIISA instead of Yale – let’s compare the stand of Alan Dershowitz with an article by historian Deborah Lipstadt.

YIISA was the first institution of its kind, the first university based center for research on antisemitism in North America. Isn’t this astonishing? Hasn’t there been much antisemitism in the US and North America in the 20th century, and before?

Let’s just take the last 10 years, since the “second Intifada” in September 2000 and since the horror of 9/11. Why did no full time professor and no university, whether Ivy League or in a small town, whether in New York City, Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago, or Dallas establish a center especially and exclusively dedicated to the scholarly analysis of antisemitism, of new antisemitism, left-wing, progressive (Jewish and non-Jewish), Muslim, Arabic, right-wing extremist, and other forms of antisemitism? Obviously American academia failed.

Finally a Canadian sociologist, specialized in urban planning first, then being involved with the analysis of new antisemitism, came to Yale, Dr. Charles Asher Small. He had the idea, the resources, and the network of scholars, donors, and Yale people who supported and embraced his idea of YIISA, among them William Prusoff and Allon Canaan.

Most recently an article about “How to Study Antisemitism” in the “Jewish Daily Forward” by above mentioned historian Deborah Lipstadt from Emory University in Atlanta shocked many scholars on antisemitism as well as people in the pro-Israel tent. While pretending to be against all forms of antisemitism, Lipstadt is even more against “advocacy.” She denounces Charles Small for being an advocate and not a scholar. I will analyze her piece in detail later.

Why did Yale close YIISA? Have a look back. On September 3, 2011, the JTA reported about the big YIISA conference from August 2010:

“The PLO envoy to Washington said that a conference on anti-Semitism at Yale University ‘demonized Arabs.’

In an Aug. 30 letter to the university’s president, Richard Levin, Ma’en Areikat cited the Aug. 23-25 inaugural conference of the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism. The conference was titled ‘Global Antisemitism: A Crisis of Modernity.’

‘As Palestinians, we strongly support principles of academic freedom and free speech, however racist propaganda masquerading as scholarship does not fall into this category,’ Areikat said.

Don Filer, the director of Yale’s office of international affairs, wrote back to say that Yale does not censor academics, the Yale Daily News reported.

In his letter Areikat cited three lectures and scholars out of more than 100 at a conference that included sessions not only on anti-Semitism in the Islamic world but among feminists, in the Christian world and among Jews. Scholars came from 18 countries and leading educational institutions, and included pre-eminent experts in their fields such as Deborah Lipstatdt.

(…) Areikat singled out for criticism Itamar Marcus, who directs Palestinian Media Watch. Marcus delivered a keynote lecture titled ‘The Central Role of Palestinian Anti-Semitism in Creating the Palestinian Identity.’”

What is Lipstadt’s response in June 2011, after Yale followed the advice of the PLO to kill YIISA? It is interesting how she deals with scholarship at Yale. She is blaming a Canadian scholar with a Ph.D. from Oxford University in the UK, one of the most prestigious universities, of having moved from scholarship to advocacy:

“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.”

Lipstadt fails to mention his name, and frames him as “an individual (…) who was not a Yale faculty member,” and “who had no official position at the university.”

Well, let’s face the facts. Dr. Small talked to me and told me about his career. He is astonished that Lipstadt, whom he invited to YIISA several times, did not talk to him before reporting about his career.

Being on the program of the “Yale Institution for Social and Policy Studies,” and teaching on its “Program in Ethics, Politics, and Economics (EPE)” does not count for her. Small also run programs for undergraduates, graduates, as well as a Post-Doctoral program, I myself was part of this in 2008 and 2009. I told Lipstadt about my research and she wrote that she clearly sees my “excellent” work. However, she did not respond to my inquiry as to why she attacked Charles Small and YIISA for having moved from scholarship to advocacy. Worse: accusing a Jewish scholar for not being a real scholar, rather an advocate, has a specific undertone, isn’t it? In Germany many mainstream historians blamed Daniel Jonah Goldhagen in 1996 for his world famous dissertation Hitler’s willing executioners. Goldhagen was “not objective” enough, because of his Jewish background, those German historians said.

Lipstadt does not mention that Charles Small is on the prestigious “Voices on Antisemitism – A Podcast Series” from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum – like Lipstadt, by the way.

She is portraying a scholar as an advocate, without talking about the high-profile scholarly results of YIISA. YIISA held 5 conferences, not including its huge conference with over 100 presentations in August 2010. YIISA had an event at 92Y in Manhattan on the Iranian threat (Small appeared with the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens). 92Y is a very well respected and classical place for events in the Jewish community. Furthermore YIISA had 4 Mini-Seminar Series, including lectures by AJC head David Harris, ADL head Abe Foxman, Simon Wiesenthal Center researcher Mark Weitzman, as well as very influential and high respected Malcolm Hoenlein from the “Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.”

YIISA hosted a dozens of “Special events,” five events in its “Film series” in 2010, even proving its diverse character by screening highly controversial films like “Defamation,” which is not known as a pro-Israel advocacy film, to say the least.

Finally, and most importantly, YIISA organized and hosted from Fall 2005 until Spring 2011 some 118 events in its Seminar Series on “Antisemitism in Contemporary Perspective.” This series was also announced on the pages of ISPS. The 118 events included 128 presentations; the first event discussing “Muslim antisemitism” was a lecture by popular young liberal (or moderate) Muslim Irshad Manji, in Spring 2006. YIISA both hosted such public intellectuals as well as well known scholars like moderate Muslim Bassam Tibi, who was a Visiting Professor at YIISA and published a working paper. Established scholars on Islam, the Middle East, history and antisemitism were invited, among them Prof. Richard Landes, Prof. Barry Rubin, and Prof. Gerald Steinberg.

I told Lipstadt that I disagree with her piece and told her about the high-profile scholarship at YIISA. She responded immediately, and says:

“At the same time, however, there was a strain of advocacy in many of the presentations and papers and this made even those who were supporters of YISA uncomfortable.  This gave fodder to YISA’s critics and lead to YALE’s actions.”

Well, this is an interesting argument from a scholar of the Holocaust and the history of antisemitism.

She says that bad actions – advocacy (for Israel) – led to “criticism,” like that of the PLO. This is a lie. The PLO promotes hatred of Israel and is not a “critic.” The PLO cannot stand the scholarly analysis of Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim antisemitism.

Lipstadt does not mention the above quoted letter from the PLO, which sparked the entire debate about the big YIISA conference in August 2010 at Yale.

Contrary to that, the historian does not try to portray the real climate and scholarship at YIISA. Why is Deborah Lipstadt not mentioning a single of these events at YIISA? Why is she not saying who was doing this bad advocacy?

YIISA had lectures from the most distinguished scholars in the field of antisemitism, including Jeffrey Herf, Alvin Rosenfeld, Benny Morris, and particularly Robert S. Wistrich. If a scholar succeeds in inviting the best scholars in the field, he is doing a really good job.

YIISA was for sure one of the best known programs of Yale University ever. At least everyone who ever dealt with antisemitism, Islamic Jihad, Israel, the Holocaust and Shoah remembrance in the last five or six years, since 2005, had heard of YIISA, whether these scholars were based in New Zealand, Australia (where YIISA head Small lectured, too), Europe, Israel, India and Bangladesh, other parts of Asia, the UK, Latin America, Africa, including South Africa, and North America.

YIISA published eight working papers so far. The papers of the big conference from August 2010 will be published in 2012 as well.

I myself did the following work at YIISA, not including lectures and articles for newspapers and online pages, and just for the record I want to mention them. Keep in mind that many other YIISA fellows also have such publications (and much more than I can provide below), like Prof. Bassam Tibi, Prof. Neil Kressel, or Prof. David Menashri:

“List of publications and work done by Dr. Clemens Heni during his appointment at YIISA 2008/2009:

• The concept and 1/3 of the following study have been made and written at YIISA in May-August 2009: Schadenfreude. Islamic Studies and Antisemitism in Germany after 9/11, 450 pages, published by Edition Critic, Berlin, ISBN 978-3-9814548-0-2, August 2011 (German)

• This book has been completed at YIISA and has been published a few weeks after my appointment in 2009: “Antisemitism and Germany – Preliminary studies of a ›heartfelt‹ relationship”, first edition 2009, second edition 2011, Edition Critic, Berlin, 332 pages (German), ISBN 978-3-00-027564-7,
Content:  Introduction (pp. 12-20) *1) Ahasver, Moloch, and Mammon: the ‘eternal Jew’ and some German specifics in anti-Semitic images since the 17th century (pp. 21-46) * 2) A comparison of ›ordinary Germans‹ (Goldhagen) and the elements of antisemitism‹ of Horkheimer/Adorno – Are there specific German characteristics in the development of the western world? (pp. 47-105) * 3) ›New-German‹ anti-Humanism, anti-Liberalism and anti-Semitism before, during and after National Socialism. Little known sources of the Catholic ›Bund Neudeutschland‹ (pp. 106-178) * 4) Nature and ‘Homeland’ (Heimat): German love for landscape – Nature protection, anti-Semitism and National Socialism (pp. 179-215)  * 5) “The natives of Trizonesia” – German author Dieter Wellershoff and the anti-Semitic impact of Cologne’s carnival song in 1949 (pp. 216-225) * 6) Secondary Anti-Semitism in Germany today (pp. 226-246) * 7) Henning Eichberg, the new right, anti-Semitism, history and the social sciences (pp. 247-263) * 8) 1933 to 1968: Götz Aly and the „revolt of the decent people” (pp. 264-280]

Scholarly articles in peer-reviewed journals:

• “Secondary Anti-Semitism. From Hard-core to soft-core denial of the Shoah”, in: Jewish Political Studies Review, 20:3-4 (Fall 2008), pp. 73-92

• “Antisemitism as a Specific phenomenon”, in: Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, Vol. 1, No. 1 (2009), pp. 29-38

• “Antisemitism and Germany: anti-Jewish images from 1602 to 9/11. About Ahasver (the »eternal Jew«), anti-capitalist antisemitism (»Mammon«) and blood libel (»Moloch«)”, manuscript made at YIISA in June 2009, published in Journal for the Study of Antisemitism (New Jersey, USA), Vol. 2, No. 1 (2010), pp. 49-87

Scholarly Articles in journals and in book anthologies:

• “Secondary Anti-Semitism. A rarely analyzed part of post-Holocaust anti-Semitism”, in: Tribüne . Zeitschrift zum Verständnis des Judentums, Vol. 47, No. 187 (2008), pp. 132-142, (German)

• “The Prague Declaration, Holocaust Obfuscation and anti-Semitism”, in: Vĕra Tydlitátová/Alena Hanzová (eds.) (2009), Anatomy of Hatred: Essays on Anti-Semitism, Pilsen, University of West Bohemia. The Centre of Middle Eastern Studies, pp. 47-59

• “Islamic Antisemitism and the Failure of Western Academia. Experiences from YALE, America and the Western world. A few ideas about a tremendously important topic in the 21st century”, Lecture at Yale University, International Conference of YIISA, April 4, 2009, published in Mentalities/Mentalités. An interdisciplinary journal (New Zealand), Vol. 24/2, pp. 24-35

In addition I published in 2007 my (500 pages) PhD about right-wing extremism, Holocaust distortion, antisemitism, national identity, and anti-Americanism in the political culture of Germany 1970–2005. This is maybe proof for some people that I did “advocacy” against Nazism, and Neo-Nazism. I call it scholarship, while being an antifascist advocate, too, indeed.

Historian Lipstadt prefers rumor (“sources at Yale” told her about the unwillingness of YIISA to do real scholarship) instead of facts. Why didn’t she contact Dr. Small or why didn’t she use a research machine on the internet? She may have found immediately the following entry on the page of Yale itself, describing the scholarly career of Charles Asher Small:

“Charles Asher Small, director of the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA), is also the director and founder of the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP). Prior to taking up the post of director of YIISA, he was a research affiliate at the Institution for Social and Policy Studies (ISPS). He received a B.A. in Political Science, McGill University, Montreal; an M.Sc. in Urban Development Planning in Economics, Development Planning Unit (DPU), University College London; and a D.Phil., St. Antony’s College, Oxford University. He completed post-doctorate research at Le Groupe de recherche en éthnicité et société (GRES), Centre d’études ethniques des universités montréalaises (CEETUM), Université de Montréal. He held the post as lecturer, Sociology Department, Goldsmith College, University of London. He was the VATAT research fellow, Department of Geography, Ben Gurion University, Beer Sheva, and a lecturer at the Department of Geography and the Human Environment, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv. He was also a lecturer at the Institute of Urban Studies, Hebrew University, Jerusalem. Charles Small was an associate professor and director of Urban Studies at SCSU, Connecticut.”

Without referring to Smalls career Lipstadt says:

“There is, however, another side to this story. 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.”

Lipstadt does not give a single name, she spreads rumor. Maybe she is also aiming at Itamar Marcus (“not scholarly in nature”), like the PLO. Maybe she has other “passionate”, though “not scholarly” presentations in mind. We do not know because she is intentionally not giving a name or a subject.

She ends her article for the Forward (and Engage from the UK republished her piece) with the following:

“Second, this struggle also demonstrates the necessity of differentiating between those who do advocacy and those who do scholarship. Both are critical – but entirely different – endeavors. Let us not forget how rightfully disturbed the Jewish community has been in recent years about the way in which advocacy and polemics have permeated so many university courses on the Middle East. Too many students who take these classes find that they have entered a zone in which advocacy masquerades as scholarship. This is unacceptable, irrespective of the source from which it emanates.“

Would Deborah Lipstadt also say that Women’s studies, Black studies, or postcolonial studies should stay away from advocacy? Does she believe that scholarship in these (very fashionable) fields is not “biased” pro woman, pro black, or pro the oppressed third world? If she ever has dealt with programs in postcolonial studies or Women’s studies she would know that all these programs of course are doing “advocacy.” So scholarship and advocacy are quite typical on campus in the US and elsewhere.

Professor Philip Carl Salzman criticizes Lipstadt and Engage and says:

“Much of the Humanities and Social Sciences is advocacy. This is obvious in such fields as “Women’s Studies,” “Black Studies,” and other fields of identity politics. But it is equally true in fields such as sociology, anthropology, “cultural studies,” communications, and other fields, in which advocating for the “sub-altern,” the “postcolonial,” and other favourites of the left is common. One only has to note that the dominant influence in many of the fields during the last decades is Edward Said, a professor of English literature who ventured into Middle East politics and the history and sociology of knowledge, with no expertise in either. No university administration ever complained about advocacy for Palestinians. But it is quite a different matter to advocate on behalf of politically incorrect Jews, ever worse to advocate for “Nazi” and “apartheid” Israel, and “racist” to suggest that there is such a things as Islamic antisemitism, which would be a blantant case of Islamophobia. The problem is not advocacy, as Lipstadt cluelessly suggests, but politically incorrect advocacy, or even politically incorrect scholarship. Let’s get real, folks.“


Lipstadt was invited twice to YIISA, now she is accusing its director Charles Small for being not on the faculty there. Hirsh publishes her attack, although he is on Board of YIISA (!) and would be not known outside of London (or the UK), if Small hadn’t published a working paper of his.

Lipstadt laments “in recent years about the way in which advocacy and polemics have permeated so many university courses on the Middle East,” again without a single example. Worse: is Lipstadt really thinking of too much pro-Israel advocacy in programs in Islamic or Middle Eastern Studies in the US? Has she ever heard of John Esposito, Barbara Freyer-Stowasser, Khaled Abou El Fadl, or Ian Shapiro and almost all other scholars in these fields (including area studies)? Being anti-Zionist, pro-Islamist is a door-opener in these fields. Everyone who mentions, let alone analyzes Arab, Muslim, and Islamic antisemitism will be dismissed.


Lipstadt misses the point, again. She is a great scholar when it comes to fighting Holocaust denial, soft-core denial and obfuscation or distortion of the Holocaust, or when it comes to remembering the Eichmann trial.

On contemporary antisemitism she is a newcomer. This is no fault. It is a fault, though, to spread rumors about “passionate” but “bad” presentations at a YIISA conference. In effect, not in intent, Lipstadt and her allies who republished her piece back the anti-Zionist PLO, Islamism, and the entire postcolonialist, postorientalist agenda.

They approve scholarship on these topics, which are all pure advocacy for Palestinians, “the oppressed”, Muslims, etc., and blame the victim: Israel and the Jews. They blame those who dare to do scholarship on antisemitism while taking a clear stand for democracy, universal rights, America and the Jewish state of Israel. A scholar on antisemitism who is not doing advocacy for Jews is fooling him- or herself. A doctor who is looking for new medicine against cancer is doing advocacy – for mankind –  as well as scholarship.

Scholars on antisemitism are looking for strategies and tactics to fight antisemitism (without being naïve and thinking to overcome it), they are also doing advocacy without framing it like this.


YIISA is the place which provided a huge space for high-profile scholarship on antisemitism. Not many places ever provided so many scholars from all over the world the opportunity to discuss their articles, books, working papers, lectures, pieces, and ideas about contemporary and other forms of antisemitism.

To attack YIISA by framing it as pure advocacy and not scholarship has nothing to do with reality – as this article proves.


We should go further to save YIISA, as Professor Walter Reich puts it in the Washington Post. The Rabbi at Yale’s Slifka Center and YIISA Board member, James Ponat, however, does not support YIISA and spreads rumor about a new center with a “new leadership” of a center for research on antisemitism.


Walter Reich points to antisemitic students and organizations who may well behind the decision (among others of course), and he points to the high-profile scholarship at YIISA and its involvement in the Yale faculty:

“The conference [the above mentioned August 2010 YIISA conference] provoked a firestorm. A Syrian American law student published a broadside in the Yale Daily News attacking the institute and the conference as fueling “anti-Arab bigotry and Islamophobia.” The Palestine Liberation Organization’s representative to the United States wrote to Yale’s president accusing the conference of demonizing Arabs — “who are Semites themselves” — and urging him to dissociate himself and Yale from the conference’s “extremism and hate-mongering.” The Internet lit up with attacks on the institute and Yale.

Yale administrators and faculty quickly turned on the institute. It was accused of being too critical of the Arab and Iranian anti-Semitism and of being racist and right-wing.

(…) The criticism was unfounded. The institute’s faculty governance committee includes 13 Yale faculty members. It has four faculty researchers; a faculty advisory committee consisting of 14 faculty members and two students; eight post-doctoral fellows; six graduate fellows; and 11 undergraduate interns. It has launched the first international association for the study of anti-Semitism and has supervised undergraduate dissertations. Yale students have attended its seminars and courses.“

Let’s focus: The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA) was the first center of its kind in North America. Research on antisemitism is among the most important fields of research in the humanities and social sciences today.


Accusing YIISA of having become a place for advocacy ignores the history of this fine institution. It distorts the career of its founder, it neglects the history of its over 100 scholarly events with the best scholars in the field.


Finally: being a scholarly advocate for the Jewish state of Israel and the Jews is an honor. Being a high-profile scholar and an “advocate” of those who are against fascism, National Socialism, Nazism, Islamism, Muslim or left-wing antisemitism is cool, timely, and smart.




P.S.: On June 19, 2011, Yale University announced a new program: the “Yale Program for the Study of Antisemitism.“

Maurice Samuels from the Department of French will lead the Program. At the Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University one can find two (!) books of this outstanding scholar in the field of antisemitism. Number one, published in 2004: “Spectacular past : popular history and the novel in nineteenth-century France,” and number two: “Inventing the Israelite : Jewish fiction in nineteenth-century France,” published in 2010. Regardless how good, interesting, bad, or disappointing these two books are: Samuels is not an expert in research on antisemitism, let alone the Arab and Muslim worlds, left-wing, progressive, or right-wing anti-Zionism and hatred of Israel in the 21st century.

Yale says in its announcement for the program:


“I am hopeful that this program will produce major scholarship on the vitally important subject of antisemitism. Professor Samuels and his colleagues have Yale’s remarkable library resources at their disposal, including the Fortunoff Video Archives of Holocaust Testimonies and the 95,000-volume Judaica collection of the Yale Library.

I want to take this opportunity to thank you for your keen interest in the study of antisemitism at Yale. This is an exciting new beginning, and we all look forward to seeing the results.

Sincerely yours,

Peter Salovey


Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology“.



More incompetence is impossible. A Judaica collection has literally nothing to do with research on antisemitism, especially when it comes to genocidal threats from Iran, Hamas, or Hezballah in 2011.

YIISA tried to help Yale to become an outstanding institution in research on antisemitism. Yale University has no interest in serious research on antisemitism. They deal with literature in the 19th century and frame it as “Yale Program for the Study of Antisemitism.”

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