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Yale starts program to study anti-Semitism

Yale University is starting another initiative to study anti-Semitism after a decision to cancel an earlier ground-breaking program sparked criticism.

The Yale Program for the Study of Anti-Semitism was announced this week. The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism was discontinued this month after a faculty review committee concluded it did not meet the university's standards for research and teaching.

The earlier program, created in 2006, was hailed as the first university-based center in North America dedicated to the study of anti-Semitism.

Yale said when the earlier program was canceled that the university hoped to support scholarship and teaching on the topic and a group of faculty came forward to propose a program.

The Anti-Defamation League, which has criticized Yale for canceling the program, welcomed the new program. Its national director, Abraham Foxman, said the earlier decision "leaves the impression that the anti-Jewish forces in the world achieved a significant victory."

Foxman said the ADL was disappointed Charles Small, who founded the original program, will not play a role in the new initiative.

"We are satisfied that Yale University understood the critical importance of continuing an institute for the study and research of anti-Semitism," Foxman said in a statement.

Small said he was concerned the new program, while led by a respected scholar, would focus on historical forms of anti-Semitism and avoid more controversial topics such as contemporary radical Islamist anti-Semitism.

"It appears that Yale, unlike YIISA, is not willing to engage in a comprehensive examination of the current crisis facing living Jews, but instead is comfortable with re-examining the plight of Jews who perished at the hands of anti-Semites," Small said.

Small's group held what it called the largest academic conference on anti-Semitism last year.

Walter Reich, a professor of international affairs at George Washington University and an adviser to Small's group, wrote in an opinion piece in The Washington Post that the conference "provoked a firestorm" and accusations that the institute and the conference fueled anti-Arab bigotry and Islamophobia.

"Yale administrators and faculty quickly turned on the institute," Reich wrote. "It was accused of being too critical of the Arab and Iranian anti-Semitism and of being racist and right-wing."

Yale spokesman Tom Conroy called that criticism "groundless." He said the institute was carefully reviewed by distinguished faculty on its academic merits.

Small said he was not given a report on the review and defended the institute's level of scholarship. He said he is discussing the possibility of relocating his program to another university.

The new program will be led by Yale professor Maurice Samuels, who said Yale has some of the leading scholars in the world working on anti-Semitism and interfaith relations. He said his group would focus on contemporary and historical anti-Semitism.

"Like many, I am concerned by the recent upsurge in violence against Jews around the world and I plan to have YPSA to address these concerns," Samuels said. "I also believe that we benefit a great deal by placing current events into historical context. YPSA will not refrain from exploring any controversial contemporary topic."

Yale officials said they hope the new initiative will produce major scholarship on anti-Semitism.

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