Q & A with Prof. Kenneth Marcu

Prof. Kenneth L. Marcus was among the presenters at the August 2010 conference co-sponsored by the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism and the International Association for the Study of Antisemitism. He signed the open letter to Yale president Richard Levin and the Yale scholarly community.

Marcus is the director of the Initiative on Antisemitism and Anti-Israelism at the Institute for Jewish and Community Research in San Francisco, as well as the Lillie and Nathan Ackerman Chair in Equality and Justice in America, at the Bernard M. Baruch College School of Public Affairs, CUNY. He spoke with the Ledger shortly after the first reports of the story broke.

Q: You have been involved in YIISA from early on. How has the program contributed to the scholarly research of contemporary antisemitism?

A: YIISA has been a leader in the field since its inception. The study of antisemitism had burgeoned during the period immediately after World War II but then gone into decline from the ’60s onward. From the onset of the Second Intifada, when a new antisemitism emerged, the field of antisemitism expanded once again to meet the new challenges brought by the resurgence of antisemitism. YIISA has been at the forefront of this effort.

Charles Small’s research with Edward Kaplan has been immensely important in understanding the relationship between antisemitism and anti-Zionism. Several other scholars, including David Hirsh and Irwin Cotler, have produced important working papers through YIISA. YIISA’s inaugural conference last summer provided an important showcase for new work in the field. Part of YIISA’s unique value has been to serve as a clearing-house for the most important new work in antisemitism studies through its website, lecture series, conference, and other activities.

Q: What does the closing of YIISA mean for scholars dedicated to this field of research, in terms of resources, opportunities, exposure, etc.?

A: Yale’s considerable academic prestige has been of great value in signaling to scholars and academic departments the legitimacy and importance of research into the problem of antisemitism. For example, departmental chairs who might otherwise have been skeptical about antisemitism research have granted requests for travel to YIISA because of Yale’s reputation. YIISA also played an important role in credentializing young scholars, particularly at the post-doctoral level, who were interested in studying contemporary antisemitism. There is no other institution that can do all of these things.

Q: Do you think the program may be reestablished at another institution?

A: Yes, if Yale does not reconsider its grave error, then I would expect that the program will probably be reestablished either at another university, within a larger think tank, or as an independent institution. However, much of YIISA’s extraordinary success has been due to its connection with Yale, and that will be difficult if not impossible to replicate.

Q: In your own work, have you experienced this kind of institutional opposition to the study, research, or teaching of contemporary antisemitism?

A: I have frequently been told that the academy is not open to the study of contemporary antisemitism and that many job markets are closed to applicants in this specialty.

Q: The university claims that the August 2010 conference, “Global Antisemitism: A Crisis of Modernity,” was a forum to express anti-Muslim rhetoric. In your opinion, did the conference serve as a catalyst for Yale to consider closing down YIISA?

A: It is hard to believe that the immense political opposition to YIISA was entirely coincidental to Yale’s abrupt decision to close it. None of Yale’s justifications make a lot of sense until one understands the extent of political hostility that YIISA faced within some quarters of Yale’s faculty and administration.