I have recently been receiving e-mails about events sponsored by The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism, a relatively new organization housed in the Yale Institution for Social and Policy Studies, because they are forwarded on to the Yale Divinity School. As a recent Yale undergraduate, I was unaware of the existence of the organization until I began my master’s at the Divinity School and started receiving notifications about their events. Four years ago, I would have thought nothing of it; now, having learned more about Middle Eastern politics and the phenomenon of pro-Israel discourse in the United States, I am greatly alarmed.
Event topics range from “Iran’s anti-Jewish Incitement to Genocide Against Israel: Is the West Asleep Again?” to, most recently, “How Scapegoating Israel Diminishes the Rights of Women in the Middle East.” This latest talk is being given by Professor Phyllis Chesler, who wrote a piece in 2007 entitled, “How my eyes were opened to the barbarity of Islam: Is it racist to condemn fanaticism?” Another seminar, “Anti-Zionism at the UN Human Rights Council,” focused on a paper in which David Matas wrote, “Whatever Israel does to defend itself is, for the most part, de-contextualized, and condemned as gratuitous, spontaneous acts of violence against innocents … Human rights experts for the Commission, like the Council, produced all too often misleading reports about Israel.” Other events include, “Radical Islam and the Nuclear Bomb,” “The Graphics of Anti-Semitism in the Arab Media,” “Demonization and Delegitimization of Israel: A Form of Contemporary Anti-Semitism,” “Hate Speech and Political Islam: Root Cause of Religious Extremism, Terrorism and Jihad,” and “How the PLO ‘Adapted’ Anti-Semitism as ‘Anti-Zionism.’”
Nowhere in the YIISA’s Mission Statement does the organization explicitly express support for Israel, yet the events sponsored by the organization and the information presented entail systematic, unconditional support for Israel as well as strong tones of Islamophobia. When does education become propaganda? While I cannot draw an exact line, I can certainly say that this organization has crossed it. To oppose anti-Semitism and to provide unconditional support for Israel are two disconnected actions and concepts, and it is the dangerous equation of the two, especially prevalent in America, that provides the impetus for Israel’s unchecked aggression, including what the U.N. has branded war crimes in the course of the 2008 Gaza War during which 1,300 Palestinian civilians were massacred. As any outcry against the actions of Israel is equated with and condemned as anti-Semitism, and those human rights activists who do speak out are attacked with the greatest degree of political dexterity, Israel continues to expand its borders through settlements in Palestinian territory. Unconditional support for Israel is a political position to which I am absolutely unwilling to subscribe, and the University has presented an unfairly one-sided stance, through this organization that it sponsors, which I and many others in the Yale community should not, and cannot, be forced to accept.
I ask that Yale University remind itself that it is an academic institution that should not be throwing its intellectual weight into any political corner, whether it be a politician, an ideology or a country. I call for the University to remember that its student population is diverse and includes many who are directly affected by Israel’s actions. Above all, I call for a spirit of humanitarianism on the part of individuals, and an educated existence in this world of political complexities in which ignorance can lead to exploitation and death, unknown and unobserved by the privileged.
Nora Jacobsen is a 2010 graduate of Saybrook College and master’s candidate in the Divinity School.