Director of Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism launches international organization
By Cindy Mindell
In 2006, Yale University became home to one of a small handful of institutes dedicated to the study and understanding of contemporary antisemitism, the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA). Founder and director Charles Small brought with him a broad scholarly and teaching background, ranging from political science to urban studies to sociology and geography. In addition to lecturing and teaching throughout the world, Small had already served as policy advisor in several countries and developed a specialty in social and cultural theory, globalization, national identity, and racism.
With that global perspective and experience, it comes as no surprise that Small has developed a wide view and in-depth understanding of antisemitism in its contemporary iterations. Rather than focus on the historic antisemitism of Nazi Germany, Small beats a different drum, and with understandable urgency: a nuclearized Iran, an empowered Hamas and Hizbollah – all advocating what Small calls “genocidal antisemitism.”
Contemporary antisemitism is not only a field of academic inquiry, but also necessarily takes on the responsibility to try to affect government policy throughout the world. This year, Small founded the International Association for the Study of Antisemitism (IASA), which will hold its inaugural international conference at Yale in August.
Small spoke with the Ledger about what antisemitism looks like today and how YIISA and IASA are working to understand and battle the phenomenon.
Q: How is IASA being received?
A: We’ve gotten international support of leading scholars and directors from other research centers throughout the world. The response to our call for conference papers has been amazing; we would have been happy with 15 papers, but we’ve received close to 90, from leading senior academics and junior academics from throughout the world. They address a range of topics, looking at antisemitism from interdisciplinary perspectives, through cultural studies and gender studies. The largest number of papers, and therefore reflecting the greatest concern, address contemporary antisemitism and the demonization of Israel and those associated or made to be associated with Israel. There is a paper on issues of Jewish self-hatred and how some Jews, especially intellectuals, are distancing themselves from Israel.
The conference is shaping up to be a major international event, and shows that we’re meeting an existing need. People are beginning to realize that contemporary antisemitism is an issue, and that it is changing as the world is changing. We need, through high-caliber scholarship, to map, decode, and understand what’s going on. But it’s not a popular topic to engage in, and scholars can become isolated. To look at the historical perspectives of antisemitism is safe, but the study of contemporary antisemitism can be much more complicated to engage in. IASA offers scholars professional connections and support, as well as a platform to present their work.
Q: How has YIISA evolved?
A: In addition to our regular seminar series, which features leading visiting scholars from around the world, we launched post-doc fellowship and graduate-studies programs two years ago.
The fact that we’re established and based at Yale allows me to be invited to many conferences and legislative bodies. Through papers, discussion, and the dissemination of information, we’re having an impact. I recently testified before the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism. Through the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism (ICCA), Canada conducted a national inquiry into the subject, as did the U.K. Italy is the next country to host the coalition of 150-plus parliamentarians from 56 countries, including Muslim nations; the U.S. will do so in three years. I have also spoken at the British and Australian Parliaments, and at the U.N. in Geneva.
Q: Why do you use “antisemitism” as opposed to the more traditional and common
A: “Anti-Semitism” implies a racial or ethnic category that is controversial and the term, written this way, shouldn’t be accepted without critical analysis. “Antisemitism” refers to the phenomenon of genocidal discussion against the Jewish people.
Q: You, through YIISA, were an early and consistent Iran watchdog. What do you see as the most serious concerns of contemporary antisemitism?
A: Iran recently promised to send its nuclear material for processing to Brazil or Turkey. But those countries don’t have the capabilities to process. So, Iran will actually continue to process its nuclear material and won’t turn it over to another country. The promise was merely an attempt to delay the sanction movement under discussion at the U.N. June 12 marks the one-year anniversary of the stolen elections in Iran, and the government is feeling pressured and gearing up for protests in thenext few weeks.
People need to understand the ideology of the Iranian regime, how it’s not acceptable or permissible, from its world-view, to accept the “Other.” The Jewish people in the state of Israel are the only others who have self-determination in that part of the world and the Iranian regime believes that Muslims need to be higher, more dominant, than others. This is a profound philosophical, moral, and ethical problem in which the Iranian regime is unable to accept the other as equal and doesn’t accept religious pluralism.
When Ahmadinejad said at Columbia University, “Iran has no gays,” there was laughter and ridicule, but the truth is that we don’t understand his language. What he was saying was that in Iran, if you’re discovered to be gay, you’re killed or forced to engage in a sex-change operation. We need to understand the genocidal antisemitic agenda of Iran, Hamas, and Hizbollah. This is anti-human rights, not just anti-Israel. Iran supports a social movement that is diametrically opposed to human rights. Radical Islam, as expressed by Hamas and Hizbollah, is a social movement inherently reactionary and unaccepting of differences.
There is another phenomenon among so-called “liberals” in different parts of the world, including Venezuela, South Africa, Western Europe, and North America, and is also evident on university campuses in the U.S. and the U.K. during “Anti-Apartheid Week” every March. People are saying that Israel is an apartheid or Nazi state. From a liberal perspective, if that’s true, what are liberals supposed to do? Dismantle the state. So there’s a new, bizarre alliance between radical Islamists and liberals, using the slogan of an apartheid state. The rational conclusion is that they are morally and ethically obligated to dismantle the state. The Hamas Charter is clear and consistent in those very intentions, and some liberals in the West argue for the dismantling of Israel.
As scholars, we need to understand why this is happening.