Being a Light Unto the Nations Is How to Fight Antisemitism at Oberlin and Elsewhere
When someone says, “Muslims are…” or “Blacks are…,” that person is immediately categorized as an Islamophobe or a racist. But when someone says, “Jews are…” or “Israelis are…,” some people justify such statements in the name of free speech. This double standard constitutes antisemitism. If anyone dared to say about Muslims, blacks or any other ethnic or religious group what Oberlin College professor Dr. Joy Karega says about Jews and Israel, they would be scolded, and possibly fired.
On March 3, the featured item in the Forward was titled, “Inside the Twisted Anti-Semitic Mind of Oberlin Professor Joy Karega.” The story refers to some of Karega’s statements, such as “alleging that Jews or Israelis were behind 9/11, ISIS, Charlie Hebdo and the Paris attacks,” or that the “Mossad engineered the downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine in 2014.”
To silence her critics, Karega uses the free speech mantle and relies on political correctness to muffle criticism against her, alleging that it is common “for Black women, who are early in their career on the tenure track as part of the professoriate, to be prime targets for these kinds of activities and practices.” This explains the timorous response of the president of Oberlin College, Mr. Marvin Krislov, himself a Jew, to Karega’s posts, though she is his employee. Instead of condemning her, he implicitly supported her, stating that he “respects the right of its faculty, students, staff and alumni to express their personal views.” Would Mr. Krislov be so open-minded if a member of his faculty expressed the view that, for example, American Muslims are striving to enact Sharia Law in the US?
In my view, our response to antisemitism should be fundamentally different. First, we must not agree to, much less condone, this double standard. These charged statements do nothing but flame hatred, promote violence against Jews, and lead us to regard them as legitimate arguments in a debate in the name of free speech. This is a serious mistake.
Second, and even more important, in the eyes of antisemites, “Even when fish fight in the sea, the Jews are behind it.” This is how they feel today, have always felt, and will always feel until we stop “corrupting the land,” as professor of Quranic Studies Imad Hamato put it.
In other words, from Mel Gibson to General William Boykin, to the just-mentioned Imad Hamato, and all the way to Hitler, antisemites believe that Jews are to blame for all the troubles in the world, and worst yet, Jews are causing all the wars.
Actually, even our own writings tell us (Yevamot 63), “No calamity comes to the world but for Israel,” so we need to understand the root cause of the anger at the Jews. In my essay, “Why Do People Hate Jews,” I explained in detail what the world expects from us. The bottom line is that we were assigned the task of being “a light unto nations” but all that the nations feel we are projecting is war. It makes no difference whether this makes any rational sense or not. If we consider the fact that in 2015 the UN. General Assembly adopted 20 resolutions singling out Israel for criticism, and only 3 resolutions on the rest of the world combined, then clearly, the vast majority of nations agree with the four names just mentioned.
Since we are being blamed for causing wars, this is what we must reverse. Our job is to bring unity and peace to the world. We conceived the term, “love your neighbor as yourself,” and the world expects us to fulfill it. The world is always examining what we do, so whenever we display disharmony, it serves as a bad example that is reflected in the world. If we quarrel among us, we project this disharmony onto other nations and they, too, begin to fight. But deep within they feel that their fight originated with us, just as they state.
So being a light unto nations is not some theological or philosophical notion. It is a practical assignment: make peace among yourselves and the world will also be at peace. Just as today some people feel that we are even causing fish to fight, if we make peace among us they will feel that we are bringing peace to all of life. And as much as the likes of Joy Karega hate us now, they will love us then, but it is up to us to determine which feelings we awaken on ourselves.