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March 1, 2016 1:45 pm

Oberlin Alumni Outraged Over ‘Growing Tolerance for Antisemitism’ at Alma Mater

avatar by Andrew Pessin

Facebook post by Oberlin Prof. Joy Karega. Photo: Facebook

Facebook post by Oberlin Prof. Joy Karega. Photo: Facebook

Anger continued to grow this week after last week’s revelation of an Oberlin professor’s antisemitic Facebook rants and the college’s response to it, particularly among alumni, some of whom returned to the Ohio school Monday and Tuesday to meet with administrators, staff and students and discuss what they consider to be growing antisemitism at the school.

As reported last Wednesday by The Tower, Oberlin Prof. Joy Karega’s Facebook page was discovered to be filled with years’ worth of posts promoting many traditional antisemitic claims: that Jews were behind the 9/11 attacks, that Jews control the world’s banks and own the “news, the media, your oil, and your government.” In response to the revelation, Oberlin President Marvin Krislov issued the following statement:

Oberlin College respects the rights of its faculty, students, staff, and alumni to express their personal views. Acknowledgement of this right does not signal institutional support for, or endorsement of, any specific position. The statements posted on social media by Dr. Joy Karega, assistant professor of rhetoric and composition, are hers alone and do not represent the views of Oberlin College.

Criticism immediately followed.

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If Karega had expressed comparably bigoted views about Blacks, Muslims or gays, the President of Oberlin would not have posted the boilerplate he posted. He would have condemned those views, even if he defended her right to express them.

Aron Hier, speaking for human rights and antisemitism watchdog the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Algemeiner:

There’s no contradiction between embracing the First Amendment and calling upon public officials to condemn those hateful, antisemitic and odious forms of speech protected by that very amendment. Hate speech may be protected speech, but university officials have both the right and the moral obligation to call it out for what it is by vociferously repudiating and condemning it.

Alumni of Oberlin also expressed outrage. Melissa Landa (class of ’86), who in December founded “Oberlin Alumni Against Antisemitism” in response to what she and other alumni perceived as growing tolerance for and even promotion of antisemitism at their alma mater, told The Algemeiner:

As abhorrent as Joy Karega’s personal views are, they are less troubling than the fact that she feels comfortable expressing them publicly. While I knew that interpersonal interactions at Oberlin were creating a toxic environment for Jewish students who support Israel, I now fear that the toxins are emanating from the academic foundation of the institution.

More recent graduate Zachary Lewis (class of ’09) reacted similarly, telling The Algemeiner:

It is beyond disappointing to see the administration’s response. To not even offer a condemnation of Professor Karega’s statement is to suggest that nothing she said was wrong, indecent, and most importantly, antisemitic.

I would love for the administration to tell me how… her suggestion that Jews run a shadowy financial, political, and militaristic underworld that is meant to keep the rest of humanity “under control” isn’t akin to the famous antisemitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elder of Zion? How is this not hate speech? How is this person able to pass a vetting process to become a professor at an institution that preaches inclusion and safe spaces?

[By not responding more forcefully] the administration has just given carte blanche to any person, student or professor, to engage in hate speech.

It is sad that a school that promotes itself as an egalitarian home for all has clearly made a distinction that when it comes to hate speech against its Jewish students, it is unwilling to take the necessary action against those who vilify them.

Landa, along with three other members of Oberlin Alumni Against Antisemitism (Marta Braiterman Tannebaum [class of ’72], Norman Birnbach [class of ’86], Abigail Lofchie [class of ’12]), arranged in January to come to campus this week to discuss their concerns with administrators. This followed an “Open Letter to College President Krislov” and the rest of the Oberlin community that they published in January, outlining a number of antisemitic incidents at the college, and noting that they were “troubled by the continued intimidation of Jewish students and the many other forms of antisemitism occurring on campus.”

As they further wrote in an email published on the blog Legal Insurrection, they have “begun to document all incidents of antisemitism at Oberlin by collecting testimonials from alumni and current students. As of today, that list is five pages in length and includes physical intimidation, verbal harassment, and vandalism.”

The document that was five pages long is, as of today, Landa told The Algemeiner, 30 pages long.

The alumni group, then some 250-strong, is also growing, Landa said. Since the story about Karega became public, she reported, they have been inundated by messages from upset alumni.

“Prior to the Karega story, there were some who thought we were overreacting to the antisemitism on campus,” Landa said. “Now many people are apologizing, saying they were sorry for doubting us.”

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