The U.S. representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization has accused Yale of hosting right-wing extremists at a recent conference on anti-Semitism.
The representative, Maen Rashid Areikat,wrote University President Richard Levin to protest the conference, titled "Global Anti-Semitism: A Crisis of Modernity," which took place Aug. 23-25and included presentations from 110 scholars. In his letter, Areikat singled out three of them: a former Israeli military officer, the legal representative of an organizationthat monitors human rights groups, and the founder of a media watchdog organization.
"It's shocking that a respected institution like Yale would give a platform to these right-wing extremists and their odious views," Areikat wrote. The PLO is internationally recognized as the sole authorized representative of the Palestinian people.
Don Filer, director of Yale's office of international affairs, wrote Areikat Wednesday to say that Yale places a premium on free speechand does not censor the views of academics. The University does not endorse the views of everyone it invites to speak, he added.
Areikat cited seminars offered at the conference such as "The Central Role of Palestinian anti-Semitism in Creating the Palestinian Identity."
"As Palestinians, we strongly support principals of academic freedom and free speech," he wrote."However, racist propaganda masquerading as scholarship does not fall into this category."
According to Charles Small, who organized the conference and directs the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism, the speakers and attendees represented a wide range of the political spectrum. But, he said, the political views of its participants should be beside the point.
"The conference was an open space for people to explore contemporary anti-Semitism," he said. "It shouldn't be reduced to being part of a right-wing agenda."
Areikat could not be reached for furthercomment Wednesday.
The controversy comes as Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plan to meet today atthe White House to discuss the Middle Eastpeace process.
Two presenters named in Areikat's letter said he misrepresented their views without attending their talks or reading their papers, and they denied being politically "right wing." The third, founder of Palestinian Media Watch Itamar Marcus, could not be reached for comment.
Jonathan Fighel, the former military officer, said he spent much of his career in the army helping to coordinate the Oslo Accords of 1993, which sought to lay the groundwork for future peace talksbetween the Israelis and Palestinians. He added that he has worked as an academic since he left the army in 1996.
Fighel now works for the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, an Israel-based research organization. His paper did not mention the PLO, but focused on the terrorist group Hamas and the role of anti-Semitism in radical Islam. He said he did not think Areikat was familiar with his record beyond his military rank.
"His letter was very irresponsible," Fighel said. "If [President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority] had seen it, I'm not sure he would have agreed that he would send it."
Anne Herzberg, another presenter criticized in the letter, works for the Israel-based NGO Monitor, whose missionAreikat said is"to suppress criticism of Israel by undermining the credibility of human rights organizations."
Herzberg denied this claim and said NGO Monitor has no political positionbut does support at two-state solution. NGO Monitor examines the activities of human rights groups in the Middle East and assesses whether or not they are contributing to the peace process, she said. NGO Monitor's mission statement states that it seeks to reveal the way human rights organizations use their budgets, many of which are derived from government donations and taxpayer dollars.
"Many of these organizations are operating for a one-state solution while being funded by governments that are working for a two-state solution," she said. "European taxpayers should know."
Small said the conference was the largest-ever gathering of scholars to talk about anti-Semitism and helped to establish the topic as one deserving of academic study.The initiativewas founded in 2005and was the first institute of its kind in the United States. Last year, the initiative sparked protest by inviting Harvard professor and pro-Israel advocate Alan Dershowitz to speak andwhen it brought Jytte Klausen, author of a book about controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, to campus.