Yale project is the victim of a menacing zeitgeist

Neither the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA) nor the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia's (EUMC) working definition of antisemitism are perfect but they are vilified more for what they get right than what they get wrong.

Both are being dumped, one by Yale University, the other by the University and College Union. Anti-zionists who fear critical examination of the relationship between hostility to Israel and antisemitism are now happy. They say there is a conspiracy to smear critics of Israel as antisemites and they think that YIISA and the EUMC are parts of the "Israel lobby". The fact that this mode of thinking appears plausible at the moment is a measure of the seriousness of our current situation.

The truth is more interesting, complex and surprising than the antisemitic fantasy. Until the 1960s, Yale was a white, waspish institution with a Jewish quota. But recently, YIISA has been a global centre for the scholarly discussion of contemporary antisemitism. It has hosted everybody, in an eclectic maelstrom of political and intellectual energy; academics, activists, journalists, lawyers and politicians.

There were things wrong with YIISA but they should have been put right rather than mobilised as reasons to close it down. An interest in contemporary antisemitism is increasingly regarded as an indicator of vulgarity, dishonesty and selfish Jewish nationalism. Yale should have resisted this menacing anti-intellectual zeitgeist, not lent its own reputation to it.

Sometimes Americans have thought of the "new antisemitism" as an overseas phenomenon of degenerate Europe. Some American Jews, who had felt safe from antisemitism, will now be hurting.

Last updated: 10:29am, September 14 2011