The head of the Palestine Liberation Organization's Washington office is accusing Yale University of supporting "anti-Arab extremism and hate mongering" at a recent academic conference -- a charge the conference's organizer flatly denies.
The controversy surrounds a conference held last week titled, "Global Antisemitism - A Crisis of Modernity," which was organized by the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA). The three-day conference featured papers and speeches from more than 100 scholars from universities throughout the world. But as far as the PLO's Washington office is concerned, some of the attendees were beyond the pale.
The head of the PLO mission in Washington, Maen Rashid Areikat¸ wrote a letter Tuesday (pdf) to Yale President Richard C. Levin demanding that the university disassociate itself from the conference. Areikat accused three speakers in particular of spreading anti-Arab propaganda: Retired Israeli Col. Jonathan Fighel, a senior researcher at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, Anne Herzberg, legal advisor to the group NGO Monitor, and Itamar Marcus, who heads the Palestinian Media Watch website and lives in the West Bank settlement of Efrat.
"It's shocking that a respected institution like Yale would give a platform to these right-wing extremists and their odious views, and it is deeply ironic that a conference on anti-Semitism that is ostensibly intended to combat hatred and discrimination against Semites would demonize Arabs - who are Semites themselves," wrote Areikat.
Charles Asher Small, the organizer of the conference and head of YIISA, told The Cable in an interview he was surprised and dismayed by Areikat's letter. He said that scholars and academics from across the political and ideological spectrum and hailing from 18 countries participated in the conference.
Small also said that one of the results of the conference was the formation of a professional association, called the International Association for the Study of Antisemitism (IASA), dedicated to fulfilling the program's stated mission of combating hatred and discrimination in all its forms. "The IASA is to function to represent scholars and intellectuals everywhere, regardless of their school of thought, scientific approaches, academic discipline, or ideological opinion," he said.
Furthermore, Small said that while his work focuses on hatred toward Jews, anti-Semitism is a phenomenon closely related to discrimination against other groups.
"We know from history that anti-Semitism unleashes a virulent form of hatred. It begins with Jews but it does not end with Jews," he said. "We see that moderate Muslims, women, gays, Copts, Bahais, Buddhists, Christians, and others, also become victims, as the basic notions of democracy and citizenship come under assault in too many societies."
With Israeli-Palestinian peace talks set to begin in Washington this week, some in the pro-Israel community saw Areikat's letter as an ill-timed political cheap shot.
"If the Palestinian Authority and the PLO spent as much effort fighting anti-Semitism and anti-Israel incitement, rather than try to intimidate and silence those who expose it, the cause of peace would greatly benefit," said an official with a pro-Israel organization in Washington.