Salahi: Anti-Semitism but not anti-hatred

A conference last week, sponsored by Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism, raises questions about the Initiative’s commitment to fighting all forms of bigotry. While speakers at “Global Antisemitism: A Crisis of Modernity,” touched on anti-Jewish sentiment across different historical periods and geographic areas, they focused predominantly on the Arab and Muslim world. Instead of connecting the threads between different kinds of hatred, the conference provided a platform for anti-Arab and anti-Muslim speakers. For a center created to promote the critical study of one form of racism, it is unconscionable that it would indulge speakers who spread another.

Among the many anti-Arab and anti-Muslim speakers was Itamar Marcus, a member of the Israeli settler movement who offered a keynote speech on “The Central Role of Palestinian Antisemitism in Creating the Palestinian Identity.” The title alone reduces an entire people and its history to irrationality and hatred; worse, it was but one of dozens of talks with a similarly problematic theme. Another speaker, Barak Seener, has, in the past, encouraged scrutiny of Israel’s Arab population — the Palestinians indigenous to the land who remained after 1948 who now comprise 20 percent of Israel’s body politic — as a “fifth column” and a “potential terrorist threat.” Such a characterization within the context of anti-Arab incitement in Israel today fits into a discourse that seeks to strip Arab-Israeli citizens of the limited political rights they now hold. Harvard professor and outspoken pro-Israel activist Ruth Wisse, who also spoke, has described Palestinian Arabs as “people who breed and bleed and advertise their misery,” a form of dehumanization that implies Palestinians are incapable of basic human emotions like sorrow and pain.

The center’s failure to adhere to consistent anti-racist principles makes it vulnerable to the charge that it is motivated by a political agenda. Indeed, many of its speakers hailed from partisan, right-wing, pro-Israel organizations including NGO Monitor, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and Palestinian Media Watch — not to mention the Israeli government. In addition, many talks functioned as apologia for recent controversial Israeli actions, including an attack that killed nine civilians on a humanitarian aid flotilla to Gaza this summer that one speaker called “the Jihad flotilla.” The conference was also co-sponsored by two Israeli universities with their own troubled and persistent legacy of anti-Arab racism, Tel Aviv University and Hebrew University. Most recently, Tel Aviv University, for example, has faced charges that a new housing policy discriminates against Arab students who do not serve in the Israeli military and who often face housing discrimination in Tel Aviv.

In addition, speakers at times seemed to conflate anti-Israel sentiment with anti-Semitism. For example, in a plenary about anti-racist Jewish critics of Israel titled “Self Hatred and Contemporary Antisemitism,” Richard Landes’ speech asked, “What Drives Jews to Loathe Israel Publicly?” as if those dissidents’ claims were based not on merit but on some pathological psychosis. Landes and others were not speaking about radical organizations but rather reputable human rights organizations, prominent Jewish dissidents and international student activists — exactly the kind of people a center purporting to fight bigotry should celebrate. By sponsoring such a forum, Yale lends its name to the notion that Jews who publically criticize Israel and Zionism are “self-haters.” Predicated on a rigid definition of a “real” Jew as someone who tows a particular political line, the underlying ideological definition of Jewish identity limits the freedom of Jews to develop their own identity based on their individual experiences in their particular social and historical context. Ironically, the same logic, inverted, often provides a pretext for racist ideas about Jews around the world, for those who imagine that Jews, no matter where they are or what they say, form a monolithic body that can be blamed for Israel’s actions.

Worse still, considering the dangerous landscape on which American Muslims now dwell, is the harm that anti-Muslim bigotry disseminated under Yale’s banner of credibility may cause. At a time when Muslim communities as close as Bridgeport, Conn. have been harassed at places of worship, Yale should be especially sensitive to the impact that the knowledge produced in its name can cause in the world. The University cannot preach tolerance and inclusion while simultaneously also providing a haven for bigoted ideas about Muslims and Arabs that often form the basis for Islamophobic sentiment in this country.

While the center’s failure to abstain from inflammatory anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric is offensive and dangerous, the real tragedy is its failure to recognize that a successful and principled stand against anti-Semitism requires a principled stand against all kinds of racism, including anti-Muslim/anti-Arab bigotry in America and anti-Palestinian racism in Israel. Yale has an obligation to distance itself from the conference’s more questionable affiliations and pronouncements, while at the same time making sure that Yale’s name is not hijacked in order to demonize Muslims and Arabs.

Indeed, as Yale now views its own history of institutional anti-Semitism with shame, one wonders how, in the future, it will look back at how its actions fueled anti-Arab bigotry and Islamophobia.

Comments

  • Arafat

    Yaman,

    You’re going to make an excellent lawyer for within one short editorial you’ve managed to twist truth around so effectively that most juries would not know which way is up, and which way is down.

    What you failed to do, though, is to convince me that anti-Muslim sentiment isn’t deserved, whereas anti-Semitism is not.

    When Muslim governments {sic} throughout the world are filled with hateful, bigoted officials, and Muslim Imams spew vile hate why would it be surprising that non-Muslims feel less than sympathetic towards Muslims? You assume this is some form of prejudice, whereas, in reality, it is no different than the natural feeling of unease one would feel around a repeat offender. That’s not prejudice that’s common sense.

  • 2006alum

    Thank you for writing this Yaman, it needed to be said. That a group at Yale is riding the current wave of Islamophobia isn’t right and quite disappointing. Frankly I’m surprised that there has not been a bigger uproar.

  • ignatz

    Arafat got it right. This “op-ed column” is a lawyer’s twisted critique of Israel, thinly disguised as a defense of Muslim civil rights, which actually seem to be doing quite well, thank you. (Just yesterday, when Muslims slaughtered 4 Israeli civlians near Kiryat Arba, did Western Europe pause even briefly to condemn the killing? Alas, they were busy prostrating themselves to avoid inadvertently offending any Islamic sensibilities — ever.) So, writing on behalf of the ONLY religion in the world that cannot — must not — be criticized, under pain of death, he complains that at this one conference, THE TITLES OF SOME OF THE SPEECHES were critical of Islam. What rubbish.

  • Sabbagh

    Yaman thank you. It is appalling that an institution such as Yale sees it fit to host conferences that bluntly spread anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab and Islamophobic sentiments. It is also shocking that there isn’t more opposition to such a conference, within Yale, given that the community prides itself in tolerance and diversity. As an Arab and Yale alumni I can testify to the level of discomfort that racist platforms such as YIISA produce amongst all students. Many feel that their identities are being attacked yet find themselves helpless as YIISA conferences come and go with practically no opposition.

  • Arafat

    Speaking of my soul-brother Islamophobes, here are quotes from two of them:

    Patriarch Cyrus of Alexandria on Islam
    “I am afraid that God has sent these men to lay waste the world”.

    *******************************************************************

    Gregory Palamus of Thessalonica on Islam
    “For these impious people, hated by God and infamous, boast of having got the better of the Romans by their love of God…they live by the bow, the sword and debauchery, finding pleasure in taking slaves, devoting themselves to murder, pillage, spoil and not only do they commit these crimes, but even – what an aberration – they believe that God approves of them. This is what I think of them, now that I know precisely about their way of life.”

  • Arafat

    And here are some quotes from somewhat more recent Islamophobes:

    John Quincy AdamsJohn Quincy Adams on Islam
    “The precept of the Koran is, perpetual war against all who deny, that Mahomet is the prophet of God. The vanquished may purchase their lives, by the payment of tribute; the victorious may be appeased by a false and delusive promise of peace; and the faithful follower of the prophet, may submit to the imperious necessities of defeat: but the command to propagate the Moslem creed by the sword is always obligatory, when it can be made effective. The commands of the prophet may be performed alike, by fraud, or by force.”

    . Winston ChurchillWinston Churchill On Islam
    “How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property – either as a child, a wife, or a concubine – must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men.”
    “Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen; all know how to die; but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science – the science against which it had vainly struggled – the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.”

  • Arafat

    And finally, here are some quotes from Muslims proving to me that Islamophobia is not paranoia but is a rational response to a blighted relgion:

    “Islam isn’t in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant. The Qu’ran should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on earth.”—Omar Ahmed CAIR (Council for American Islamic Relations) Founding Chairman

    “Islam makes it incumbent on all adult males, provided they are not disabled and incapacitated, to prepare themselves for the conquest of [other] countries so that the writ of Islam is obeyed in every country in the world. But those who study Islamic Holy War will understand why Islam wants to conquer the whole world…. Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those [who say this] are witless. Islam says, kill all the unbelievers just as they would kill you all! …Whatever good there is, exists thanks to the sword, and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient, except with the sword! The sword is the key to Paradise, which can be opened only for Holy Warriors! …Does all that mean that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging war? I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim.”—Ayatollah Khomeini (1902-1989) Iran’s Supreme Leader from 1979 to 1989—the highest ranking political and religious authority of the nation.

    “We should fully understand our religion. Fighting is a part of our religion and our Sharia [Islamic legal code]. Those who love God and his Prophet and this religion cannot deny that. Whoever denies even a minor tenet of our religion commits the gravest sin in Islam.”—Osama bin Laden Radical Muslim

  • Haber

    Yaman, the problem is created when ideologically-motivated donors give oodles of money to create a “Center” that has an ideological agenda — in this case, consonant with the liberal-hawk-neocon consensus on Israel — and then turns around and invites all the usual suspects (friends and friends of friends). In this case we got a conference worthy of the American Enterprise Institute and not an Ivy League university.

    The problem is not limited to the right. I can give you academic conferences where the range is equally narrow. Last year York University and Queen University had a big conference called Israel Palestine — Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace. The ideology ranged from liberal Zionist two-staters to non-Zionist one-staters. Nobody represented, as far as I know, either center-right Israelis/Zionists, and religious constituencies, either Jewish or Muslim.

    Anti-semitism is too serious an issue to be trivialized by a conference whose invite list looks like a reunion of the Commentary crowd. There should be at a conference on global anti-Semitism, first and foremost, academic experts in the field who are not known for grinding ideological axes on Israel. It should not invite ideologues, the loonies of the right, the obsessive “watchers”, and, from what I gather, nobody to the left of Scoop Jackson Democrats. This conference invited folks without scholarly expertise in the field of anti-Semitism and kept the invitees on the right. Richard Landes, who is a medievalist, is ok, but Norman Finkelstein, who has written a long essay on the new anti-Semitism is not? NGO Monitor is ok, but representatives of Amnesty International and Human Right Watch which are routinely bashed by NGO monitor are not (I did not see a program, so I am not sure about that.) And what about Brian Klug, who has written a trenchant critique against those who consider “demonizing Israel” to be anti-Semitism. Was he invited?

    Yes, Yale’s name has been besmirched. But rest assured — no academic who is not already biased will take the conference — and the Center — seriously. Yale once returned a gift to the Bass family because they wanted to control the hire. Yale apparently learned not to look a gift horse in the mouth.

  • yale

    I agree whole-heartedly that there is no room for racism against Muslims at Yale or anywhere else. At the same time, we must be honest when examining issues of anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel. We cannot ignore the fact that the Muslim world produces an incredible amount of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment, nor can we ignore the fact that extreme anti-Israel positions are often only a mask for anti-Semitism. This is not a statement of how one should regard Muslims as a whole nor how individuals Muslims should be treated, but rather a statement of fact that we cannot hide from. While Islamophobia is completely inappropriate, it would also be inappropriate for us to ignore the influences of the Muslim world in spreading anti-Semitism for fear of offending the Muslim community. Only an honest and unbigoted examination of these issues will let us move forward.

  • peacenotwar

    What would have been more fitting, and indeed what some conscious Jews have been doing, would have been to draw the striking parallels between today’s Islamophobia and yesterday’s Judaiophobia (anti-Semitism). To recognise that, as some have put it, “today’s Muslims are yesterday’s Jews”, and that the impulse to hate and discriminate against a group of people is a danger to all–Jews, Hindus, Christians, and Muslims alike. Remember: anti-Semites were not short on “justifications” for their sentiments either, so for those citing Quincy Adams and Bin Laden, I would advise a quick skim at the despicable history of anti-Semitic quotes–I assure you, you shall not run out of renowned references in that regard. Dogmatism cannot be justified by quoting celebs!

  • theantiyale

    Yale does not lend it’s imprimatur to ideas. It provides a FORUM for ideas (ALL IDEAS) wherever they lead. That is the mission of the Academy. Those who would try to squeeze Yale to the service of their politics or their idealogy misunderstand the fundamental nature of the Academy. Even the Internet and the idolatrous materialism which surrounds us all have not tainted that mission..

    PK

  • theantiyale

    its not it’s. Proofreading never ends.
    PK

  • riri145

    Can someone explain the title of this opinion piece? Does YIISA hate Jews but doesn’t hate hatred?

  • theantiyale

    Permit me to ask again:

    Why do people hate Jews?

    I don’t get it. Especially when CHRISTIANS hate Jews. Jesus was Jewish, for God’s sake (lol), from the day he was born to the day he died. *The Last Supper* was a *Passover* meal!

    Is it elitism?

    Do they hate the self-advertisement: The “Chosen people”?

    The whole elitism of that phrase is based on the most famous act of SEXISM in human history.

    Sarah, Abraham’s WIFE, is barren and Abraham wants MALE offspring so he takes a CONCUBINE ( a woman with whom he can stand stud) named Hagar and creates ISHMAEL (remember the famous line “Call me Ishmael”?) Then God (because he has a sense of humor) makes SARAH pregnant at age 90 and she gives birth to ISAAC, future father of the Tribes of Israel.

    Here is the KERNEL of the thousands-year-old mid-east conflict, a kernel “conceived” (lol) in SEXISM:

    Because Ishmael is ILLEGITIMATE and Isaac is LEGITIMATE, Isaac’s offspring (the Tribes of Israel) are eligible for the title “Chosen”. This leaves Ishmael’s people (aka the Arab people) de facto the UNchosen people whether they accept the description or not.

    Ergo 3000+ years of war. Nice going.

    The whole things is a house-of-cards based on a, ELITIST and SEXIST PREMISE: males and male “blood” (genes) passed on legitimately are BETTER than males and male blood passed on illegitimately.

    NB: Herman Melville adds to the irony with “Call me Ishmael” (Call me the UNchosen one) since HIS Ishmael is the only member of the Pequod chosen NOT to be drowned by Moby Dick. Nice job Herman!

    PK
    [link text][1]

    [1]: http://the antiyale:blogspot.com “GOD (Genome’s Obscure Distributor)

  • jocelie

    Bravo for this opinion article! As an American Jew, it makes me angry when academics, other Jews, and people in general use antisemitism as one more way to foster misunderstanding, hatred, and fear of Muslims and Arabs. This piece is a welcome, balanced, and much-needed response to the conference held here at Yale.

  • gzuckier

    Unfortunately, the moral center of current antisemitism is currently the Arab and/or Islamic countries of the Middle East; where else do governments seriously advance the Blood Libel and the Protocols as fact? Which does not negate the fact that Arab-Israelis constitute de facto second class citizens, in addition to the oppression of the West Bank Arabs, on the grounds that Palestinians are a threat because they do hate Israel, which is understandable since they are being oppressed; chickens and eggs, chickens and eggs.

    I did not attend this conference, but in the past, seminars at YIISA have made clear the tolerance shown to Jews in Islamic and/or Arab countries until comparatively recently, as well as tracing the path of rabid antisemitism from European Christianity to the postwar Middle East, serving ulterior political motives in both cases. The living memories of the Holocaust survivors who attend these presentations are enough to negate any assertion that antisemitism and Islam are inextricably linked.