On Wednesday, April 26, a lecture was held at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan on “Contemporary Anti-Semitism and the Academy.” Led by Charles A. Small, a scholar of Canadian origin well regarded for his efforts to combat anti-Semitism worldwide, the lecture spoke to the growing anti-Israel sentiment pervading campuses around the country, and gave a poignant analysis on why the climate in the “academy” has taken on an increasingly anti-Semitic tone in recent years. Small founded an institute at Yale to combat anti-Semitism in 2006, and recounted his experience working at the school and the resistance he encountered leading up to his dismissal from the university in 2011.
During World War II, anti-Semitism was transmuted into a racial hatred. The Aryan race needed to be cleansed of “impure” Jews, and the Holocaust, besides for having yielded the deaths of over six million Jews of European descent, propagated the idea that Jews shared not only a religious identity, but also a racial one. Citing biological findings, Small showed how the fact that race makes up but a small part of what we are, partly explains why such notions of “racism” have gradually faded from our discourse.
Lastly, and most importantly, explained Small, have been the anti-Israel views that have, in due time, been frequently conflated with anti-Semitism. By recounting his experience at Yale—opening the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism, Small’s center was ultimately scolded on the grounds its presence gave Yale a pro-Israel ideology in the eyes of Arab nations such as Iran—Small showed how the anti-Israel ideas on campuses at elite universities have now taken the form of anti-Semitism, and given genuine anti-Semites a cover behind which they can hide (“I don’t hate Jews, just Israel,” some will say).
To understand why the liberal intellectuals generally hold views that are unsympathetic to the Jewish state, Small said one must look at their scholarly origins. Introducing the subject of postmodernism—the notion of understanding that promotes multiculturalism and cultural relativism, in which the colonized and the afflicted are often the subjects of intellectual sympathy—and its development in the 1970s, at the time when many of today’s faculty were being educated, Small showed the conceptual underpinnings for the views and activities of such scholars nowadays.
For Small, the problem today is that this distinction between anti-Israel and anti-Semitic views is not being effectively drawn.
When asked by the JV how he had discovered this issue empirically, Small cited a study he had conducted on the subject a few years ago. Five thousand Europeans were first asked questions on basic anti-Semitic claims that have perpetuated for centuries—age-old prejudices—and subsequently asked about their views on Israel. Small and his colleagues found that those who were anti-Israel were thirteen times more likely to hold anti-Semitic views. This correlation does not indicate causation—whether it is anti-Zionism that leads to anti-Semitism, or vice versa—but does indicate how the two often go hand in hand.
Displaying a few videos to illustrate how the academy often misconstrues anti-Semitism for anti-Israel bias, Small demonstrated how the discrepancy results from a lack of knowledge about what really takes place, and is said, in the Middle East. Continuing in his efforts to treat this growing issue, Small and his nonprofit organization—the Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy—have striven to instruct students on a number of campuses across the country on the perils of anti-Semitism. Small, specifically, has now turned his efforts to Stanford University.
The lecture was mostly attended by scholars and others closely linked with Small and his efforts, including Phyllis Chesler, who has written for the JV and is well regarded for her columns in Israel’s Arutz Sheva news site.