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November 20, 2019 2:38 pm

At Oberlin and Elsewhere, Anti-Zionism Is Not a Valid Viewpoint

avatar by Melissa Landa


Bosworth Hall at Oberlin College. Photo: Daderot / Wikimedia.

Discrimination and harassment of Jews by pro-BDS groups like Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace is rampant on many campuses. While they are largely allowed to practice their Judaism, Jews are often attacked when they express their love for their religious and ancestral homeland — Israel.

This imposed bifurcation of Jewish identity is painfully illustrated in a video found on Oberlin College’s website, called “Jewish Life: A Conversation,” in which five Jewish students discuss their Jewish identities — but never utter “Israel” once.

Indeed, as student reports of a“toxic climate” around Israel began to increase at Oberlin College, anti-Israel agitation has also increased.

Students were threatened and dehumanized by a campus speaker who elicited laughs by saying “Zionists should be burned at the stake”; with Twitter posts saying that “Ohio is infested with Zionism”; and with campaigns that pressured them to “give up their Birthright.” And there are also reports that Jewish officials connected to Chabad and Hillel are trying to distance campus Judaism from Israel.

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Last fall, I received an email from a high school student — a gifted musician — who had just returned from visiting Oberlin. She wrote about how “prominent” the BDS movement was on campus, and how “there were Oberlin faculty who not only openly promoted BDS but were teaching anti-Zionism to their students.” And last month, a member of the Oberlin community contacted the Jewish Studies Department, the Hebrew Language House, and Oberlin Hillel to request that they sponsor a talk on LGBT rights in Israel by Israeli LGBT activist Hen Mazzig — but none responded to her request.

Pro-BDS members of the Oberlin faculty, joined by a steady stream of virulent and highly paid antisemitic speakers, including a recent visit by Eli Valley and an upcoming talk by Norman Finkelstein, continue to viciously target the Jewish people and their homeland. They launch accusations against Israel that are steeped in traditional antisemitic tropes, and also participate in a well-funded international network that has fooled the American academy into believing that anti-Zionism is merely a political viewpoint.

It is not.

The connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel has existed continuously for three millennia. In fact, when I married my husband, a native Israeli, I joined an Israeli family that has lived in the land of Israel for 15 consecutive generations. Jews who left the land of Israel did not leave by choice, and many of those who lived in the Diaspora always maintained their spiritual longing for the land of Israel. This longing is evidenced by the words, “Next year in Jerusalem,” recited every year at the end of the Passover seder, among many other things.

The story of the Ethiopian Jews offers another example of Jews’ unwavering link to their origins, and Ethiopian Jews refer to themselves as Beta Israel — the House of Israel.

It is clear that Jews who feel connected to Israel are becoming excluded from the social fabric of Oberlin College. It is also clear that harassing Jewish students for supporting Israel, and harassing Jewish students who have not been to Israel with the intention of preventing them from establishing that relationship, constitutes antisemitic harassment. This is a violation of Title VI, which “protects students from race, color, and national origin discrimination,” and states, “this prohibition encompasses discrimination, including harassment…”

The Office of Civil Rights at the United States Department of Education recently published a document titled, “Know Your Rights: Title VI and Religion,” and investigations into Title VI violations on antisemitism are already underway at New York University and Duke-UNC, and concluded this summer at Williams College. Based on the numerous reports of harassment I have received from Oberlin students and recent graduates, I suspect Oberlin could be next.

This article has been updated to reflect that the Office of Civil Rights has concluded its investigation at Williams College.

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