A "Gentlemen's Agreement" at Yale?

Ashley Thorne

A New York Post commentary on Yale’s decision to close one of its interdisciplinary programs raises questions as to whether the university did so to appease offended Muslims and Palestinians.

The program was the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA). It was the only research program on anti-Semitism in existence at an American university, although we do know of at least one other center that looks at hate more generally, the Institute for Action Against Hate at Gonzaga University. Last year my colleague Glenn Ricketts brought it to our attention, observing that the Institute “is essentially an exercise in amplifying cultural clichés.” While training students for politically correct activism drives Gonzaga’s program, research seems to guide the Yale program. Part of YIISA’s mission statement says that its main objective is to nurture “high caliber scholarship, discussion and debate.”

YISSA also describes itself as “dedicated to the scholarly research of the origins and manifestations associated with antisemitism globally.” Apparently though, the study of “global” anti-Semitism reached too far – some nations and people groups took extreme umbrage when YIISA attributed anti-Semitism to them. The Post author, Abby Wisse Schachter, puts it this way:

Christian anti-Semitism is fine; political Jew-hatred, like communist or fascist anti-Semitism, no problem. But get anywhere near Muslim or Middle Eastern anti-Semitism, as presenters at YIISA's conference did last year, and you've crossed the line.

Schachter believes the university’s PR explanation of its decision to close YIISA (that a review found the program deficient in serving Yale faculty) is just a smokescreen for what really happened, which was that Yale capitulated to the demands of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Schacter cites a letter from PLO to Yale president Richard Levin that says, “It's shocking that a respected institution like Yale would give a platform to these right-wing extremists and their odious views.” The letter urged Yale to separate itself from the “anti-Arab extremism and hate mongering that were on display during this conference.”

President Levin authorized a response emphasizing Yale’s commitment to free speech and inability to “prevent speakers at an on campus event from speaking their minds.” But Yale shut down YIISA anyway; Schachter writes that a big factor influencing this decision may be that one of YIISA’s major financial backers recently died and “the school can rid itself of a politically inconvenient nuisance.”

This story illustrates perfectly the “victimizing hierarchy” Paul Gottfried referred to in his interview this week with Inside Academia (at 13:40 in the video). He said, “There are certain groups that have been designated as historical victims that have been given this right, usually at the expense of other groups...” Gottfried said that women are allowed to accuse men, minorities are allowed to accuse white people, homosexuals are allowed to accuse heterosexuals – but it never goes both ways. In academe, putative anti-Muslim bias often outranks the most palpable hatred directed against Jews.

“Hate-mongering” does go both ways; so does valid study. Why should one group trump another in victim status, shutting down future research, debate, and potential points of agreement? PLO pulled the Muslim card fully knowing that in higher education, the quickest way to eliminate an unwanted voice is to cry hate speech and rely on your group’s place on the totem pole for victim victory.

If universities are ever to truly honor freedom of speech and a plurality of views, they must reject the totem pole.

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