At a lecture delivered Thursday afternoon, former CIA director R. James Woolsey LAW ’68 took a truly interdisciplinary approach to outlining anti-Semitism in the 21st century, linking the trend to Anti-Americanism and a massive dependence on foreign oil.
Nearly 100 students, faculty and fellows filled the LC 101 lecture hall to hear the Rhodes Scholar and Yale Law graduate speak as part of a seminar series sponsored by the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of anti-Semitism.
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Woolsey opened the seminar by asserting the significance of anti-Semitism worldwide.
“Today we are reliving as a civilization some aspects of the 1930s, with the Middle East playing something like the role of Europe in that earlier decade,” he said.
Woolsey detailed the intricacies of this trend, drawing on his long career in foreign affairs to explain the origins of the problem. His remarks centered around what he termed “enablers,” or factors contributing to the rise of anti-Semitism in the 21st century.
Woolsey sharply criticized Middle Eastern regimes supported largely by oil revenues, especially the Saudi government, which he denounced as “genocidal towards Jews” and other groups. U.S. expenditures on oil imports ultimate fund anti-Semitic groups as well as terrorists fighting American forces in Iraq, he said.
“As we enrich the Middle East — paying for oil — we are doing some other things that I think we would rather not be doing,” Woolsey said. “We are all guilty, as we reach for those credit cards, until we decide as a nation to deal with this problem of how to drive ourselves around some other way.”
He then moved on to address another of the “enablers,” former President Jimmy Carter. Woolsey called Carter’s newest book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” a distortion of history and said the views Carter expresses in the book contributed to the rise of anti-Semitism in the United States and abroad.
This characterization caught some audience members off guard. Ariel Evans ’09, who works for YIISA as an intern, said he was a little surprised by Woolsey’s remarks about Carter.
“To call [Carter] an enabler of anti-Semitism is not something I would have assumed he would say,” Evans said.
Evans said talks like Woolsey’s provide an academic survey of an important societal phenomenon. He said he believes that the growth of anti-Semitism is a trend best studied in an academic manner.
Woolsey’s message resonated with some members of the audience like Shane Deighton ’10, who said she “basically agreed” with everything he said.
But others in the audience questioned whether important perspectives were left out. Harry Avakian, a New Haven mathematics tutor, pointed out that the Palestinian point of view was not given adequate treatment in Woolsey’s seminar.
“There’s two sides to every story,” Avakian said.
YIISA Director Charles Small said the energy a major public figure can bring to the topic has raised awareness about anti-Semitism across the University. The annual seminar series, now in its second year, has featured James Carroll, author of “Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews,” and former Canadian Attorney General Irwin Cotler, among others.
Small said the seminars have been well-attended so far. Contributing to that popularity, he suspects, is the fact that Yale was the first North American university to establish a program like YIISA.
Woolsey’s speech was the 14th installment in the seminar series. The next speaker will be Harvard University Yiddish literature professor Ruth Wisse, who will address “Why Anti-Semitism Succeeds.”