At Oberlin, some offensive speech is more protected than others.
Last week The Tower magazine broke the story of a “social justice writing” professor at Oberlin, Joy Karega, who engaged in some bizarre anti-Semitic and anti-Israel commentary on Facebook.
The short version is that Karega, at least based on what she posts on Facbeook, sees Zionist and Jewish conspiracies almost everywhere, including claiming Israel was behind 9/11, and that the Charlie Hebdo attack and downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 were Mossad false flag operations. She also circulated and posted about the Rothschild family controlling the media and seeking global domination, so no mere anti-Zionist loon here.
Bradley Burston, a leftish harsh critic of Israeli policies who feels “anti-Semite” is overused, thinks the label fits here, Progressive Except for Jew-Hate? Pure anti-Semitism on the Purely anti-Israel Left:
In recent years, one of the few unifying Israel-related experiences on the North American left has been that of sincere critics of Israeli policies being unfairly and often vociferously attacked as anti-Semitic.
What happens, though, when a leftist critic of Israel actually does veer into vile, high-octane, Klan-grade anti-Semitism?
Is the anti-Israel hard left prepared to denounce the real thing – authentic Jew-hatred from a progressive?
The test case is before us. It comes from Oberlin….
Karega, by the way, was one of the faculty the Black Student Union demanded be granted tenure in its 14-page list of demands. In that same list of demands was the boycott of Israel.
This controversy takes place just weeks after hundreds of alumni signed an Open Letter to Oberlin decrying the anti-Israel and sometimes anti-Semitic atmosphere on campus driven by the anti-Israel BDS movement.
Not surprisingly, Karenga is hosting a pro-BDS event on campus this week sponsored by Oberlin Students for a Free Palestine and featuring Prof. Robin Kelley..
Karega, for her part, is unbothered by the controversy, and still promoting the BDS event:
After the understandable uproar, the Oberlin administration issued a short statement defending Karega’s right to hold whatever views she wants,
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.
The Oberlin position is, at one level. principled. Freedom of thought and speech sometimes requires that even the most vile speech is protected.
But the question arises, particularly in light of recent history of Oberlin, would such offensive speech be protected by the Oberlin administration — without even so much as a condemnation — if the speech were against some group other than Jews.
Indeed, that issue goes to the heart of the complaint by the Oberlin alumni group, that what the college never would tolerate as to other groups gets at most a shrug of the shoulders when directed at Jews.
We don’t have to guess. Longtime readers may recall the events of 2013 at Oberlin, covered extensively here, sparked by racist messages on message boards used by Oberlin students and on some posters and graffiti on campus. While the offensive speech also was directed at gays and Jews, by far the biggest controversy and protest surrounded the anti-black speech.
The Oberlin administration reacted swiftly, including all-campus meetings and cancellation of classes, and a denunciation of the remarks:
It turned out that the racist postings were a “hoax” in the sense that they were perpetrated primarily by a liberal Oberlin student trying to troll the campus and spark a debate about racism, as I wrote in The Great Oberlin College Racism Hoax of 2013
I wrote to the Oberlin President Marvin Krislov to find out if there would be a similar college administrative reaction to Karega’s anti-Semitic rants. My email read, in pertinent part:
I have read news reports regarding the Facebook postings of Prof. Joy Karega, as well as your brief statement in support of her right to make such statements.
I’m writing to inquire whether any campus events or programming are planned with regard to the Karega statements/controversy, similar to what happened in 2013 after racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic statements were posted on message boards and on campus
If no such events are planned, on what basis does the college distinguish the response to the 2013 events from the current controversy?
I have received no response.
This does, indeed, appear to be a test case for Oberlin. Will anti-Semitic rants be treated the same as anti-black, anti-LGBT speech. Will Oberlin prove, in Bradley Burston’s words, that it is not “PEAS – Progressive Except For Anti-Semitism.”DONATE
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