Suzanne Fields / June 17, 2011

Return of Bad Times for the Jews

In the wake of the celebrated Weiner roast, Jewish jokes are in. The congressman’s surname doesn’t help. Some of our funniest comedians are Jews, in a long line stretching from the Borscht Belt through vaudeville to Hollywood. Jews love to laugh at themselves. They aren’t so happy when others laugh at them. They see the Weiner episode, for an example, as another “good Jewish boy makes a fool of himself.”

So it wasn’t a good week for Jews. They also take it personally that San Francisco and Santa Monica will vote this fall whether to ban circumcision, the ritual based on the Biblical covenant between God and Abraham.

In the wake of the celebrated Weiner roast, Jewish jokes are in. The congressman’s surname doesn’t help. Some of our funniest comedians are Jews, in a long line stretching from the Borscht Belt through vaudeville to Hollywood. Jews love to laugh at themselves. They aren’t so happy when others laugh at them. They see the Weiner episode, for an example, as another “good Jewish boy makes a fool of himself.”

So it wasn’t a good week for Jews. They also take it personally that San Francisco and Santa Monica will vote this fall whether to ban circumcision, the ritual based on the Biblical covenant between God and Abraham.

The bizarre California referenda are widely expected to fail, and more serious than a good joke is the decision by Yale University to kill an important scholarly institute, the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism. The institute is a unique place to examine the changing manifestations of the ancient hatred of Jews. The closing of the institute comes just as Hamas, the terrorist organization, appeals to world sympathy with arguments rooted in anti-Semitism, camouflaged (badly) as legitimate political rhetoric.

Yale claims its reasons to close the institute are purely academic, that its faculty lacks “creative energy” and the learned papers they produce don’t get the attention of “top-tier journals in behavioral science, comparative politics, or history,” but that may merely show how much the institute is needed.

Yale’s actual reasons are more blatant. The institute displays the political incorrectness that the politically correct campus simply cannot abide – the spirit of such free inquiry, to speak truth to liars, is absolutely taboo.

At a conference titled “Global Antisemitism: A Crisis of Modernity,” sponsored by the institute last year, scholars addressed the growth of virulent anti-Semitism in the Middle East today, noting its origins in European anti-Semitism of the 1930s. They demonstrated how Muslims reprise images and accusations beloved by the Nazis – that Jews control the world, kill Christian children for their blood and spread disease.

The Palestinian Liberation Organization’s representative in the United States afterward accused Yale of demonizing Arabs. Bloggers joined with certain Yale students and even some professors, and Yale administrators caved. They accused the institute of “being too critical of the Arab and Iranian anti-Semitism and of being racist and right-wing,” as described by Walter Reich, former director of the US. Holocaust Museum and a member of the institute’s international board of directors, in The Washington Post.

Bassam Tibi, an institute scholar and a speaker at the conference that so upset the Yale administration, observes how Hamas specifically draws on the Islamization of anti-Semitism, calling for the eradication of the Jews, rendering the so-called peace process impossible. Such ideas are unpleasant, but demand debate.

Peter Berman, a scholar in anti-Semitism, recounted at a recent Hudson Institute seminar how Islamist anti-Zionism draws on Islamic traditions and recycled 20th century European ideas, which makes the subject difficult for many Europeans to confront.

“Feeling guilty about their own colonial past, about the racism of the European past, all of these issues have in effect disarmed the Europeans intellectually in regard to dealing with the Islamist movement as a doctrine of its own,” he said. He sees a similar problem in America, linking anti-Zionism with European anti-Semitism.

It’s easy for professors and other intellectuals to talk about the anti-Semitic roots of the Holocaust, because that’s in the past and it’s history, however unpleasant. Talking about the past requires no courage at all – it’s in the book. But watching an ancient hatred rise as virulent as ever from the ashes of wars in Europe and the Middle East is something too hot for mere professors to handle.

Hamas calls in its charter for the elimination Israel. Paul Berman cites Article 7 of the charter, which quotes the Prophet Muhammad as calling the killing of Jews a religious duty. Berman reminds us that history teaches that political movements proclaiming the intention to kill Jews follow through. Hamas invokes the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, dismissed as an ugly fraud by the civilized world but regarded as fact in parts of the Middle East.

Anti-Semitism can be crude, vulgar and immediately transparent to the observant eye, but it often gets a pass in lofty discussions with appeals to “idealism” in intellectual circles on the left. The Yale administrators succumbed to academic righteousness to kill an institute founded to study a pernicious and resurgent cult of bigotry.

“There is no heart so warm,” the scholar Irving Howe once observed, “that it doesn’t have a cold spot for the Jews.”

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