I am neither Jewish, nor Islamophobic. I am, however, a student who has recently chosen to work for the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism, and these are my personal opinions about their mission in response to the falsehoods suggested by Nora Jacobsen’s column (“When does education become propaganda?” Dec. 2). I am appalled by both Ms. Jacobsen’s mischaracterization of YIISA’s mission, and her accusations that the Institute’s efforts are somehow connected to the deaths of Palestinians during the Gaza War.
On Thursday, Ms. Jacobsen wrote that the University has expressed “unconditional support for Israel” through its sponsorship of YIISA, and such a stance is not one that she should be forced to accept. She points to the events YIISA arranges as credible inferential evidence for her arguments. These events have titles such as “Iran’s anti-Jewish Incitement to Genocide Against Israel” because the Holocaust-denying Iranian president speaks frequently of wiping Israel off the map. This radical, genocidal intention is entirely due to anti-Semitism, and efforts to increase the discourse addressing such dangerous, maniacal hate speech should be applauded. The Iranian president is one of the most dangerous anti-Semites in power today. YIISA studies anti-Semitism — its business is not the promotion of Israel, but the exploration of a very serious, and unfortunately prevalent, ideology in our world today. The history and spread of anti-Semitism is a much broader topic than whether or not Israel should build more settlements in the West Bank, or any other particular policy decision.
In current discourse, efforts to distinguish between stances such as YIISA’s opposition to anti-Semitism and positions of unconditional support for all of Israel’s actions are inadequate. And Ms. Jacobsen has facilely conflated YIISA’s opposition to anti-Semitism with being pro-Israel. The two are linked but not the same — and eliminating the distinctions makes coherent discussion about right and wrong impossible. Jacobsen’s assertions call to mind the words of H.L. Mencken: “For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.”
There is, of course, overlap between anti-Semitism and anti-Israel positions. After all, Israel is full of Jews; so those who harbor anti-Semitic sentiments would necessarily hate most of the people in Israel. Consequently, study of those who hate Jews today often addresses one of its primary expressions, in the form of anti-Israel pronouncements like those made by Ahmadinejad.
Ms. Jacobsen claims she has been forced to accept unconditional pro-Israel support. If she had been forced to accept such a position, she would have actually attended YIISA’s seminars. Or perhaps she could have watched them via the video archives on its website (http://www.yale.edu/yiisa/). One seminar she does appear to have attended concerned anti-Zionism at the United Nations. Such a discussion does not indicate one-sided, blind acceptance of all things pro-Israel. Indeed, UN Watch has noted repeatedly that the UN has satisfied criteria for being anti-Semitic through declarations such as “Zionism is racism.”
Ms. Jacobsen may not approve all of Israel’s policies, and such a stance is perfectly legitimate. But her acceptance as fact that Israel is responsible for war crimes in Gaza ignores that this is a highly contentious and unsettled political debate. It is academically dishonest for her to throw such politicized accusations in at the end of her argument against YIISA, especially when she is supposedly calling for YIISA to embrace a broader perspective.
I certainly am not unequivocally pro-Israel. I am, however, unequivocally anti-anti-Semitism. The complexities inherent in the study of anti-Semitism require a legitimate organization to study its causes and effects. I applaud Yale for providing the platform for such an institution, and for standing strong against the reactionary arguments over this past summer, and once again on Thursday, against its existence and mission.
Michael Maruca is a senior in Berkeley College.