Open Letter from Jewish Oberlin Students about Prof. Karega [Updated]

by Oberlin College students
[Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly attributed this post to students associated with Jewish Voice for Peace.] 
As current Oberlin students and anti-Zionist Jews, we are writing to add our voices to the conversation about anti-Semitism and Professor Joy Karega. We see the the level and form of condemnation as unproductive, polarizing, and reinforcing oppressive anti-black and anti-BDS narratives on campus. We unequivocally oppose the responses by the college which suggest punitive measures and leave no room for collective accountability. We strongly believe that Professor Karega should not be fired nor removed from tenure consideration.
In recent days, a chorus of pro-Israel Jewish alumni, outside voices, and a few vocal students have monopolized Jewish opinion on this issue. These voices do not represent us. This campus should exist for its current students, and not for the political agendas of alumni and Zionist voices against BDS or Palestinian solidarity. Though there have been isolated instances of anti-Semitism, we do not feel that they indicate a systemic presence of anti-Semitism within the administration or the student body.
We recognize that the attacks on Professor Karega are not occurring in a vacuum. The original article from The Tower, a right-wing Zionist periodical, links Professor Karega’s Facebook posts to the anti-BDS letter from Oberlin alumni released in January 2016. This is a pattern we have seen before. Across the country, pro-Israel organizations and voices, intent on discrediting the BDS movement, are loudly and falsely insisting that college campuses are hotbeds of anti-Semitism and are unsafe spaces for Jewish students because of pro-Palestine activism. The false charges of anti-Semitism in the alumni letter and the media at large about BDS and anti-Zionism make it difficult to confront anti-Semitism when we experience it.
The official statements from the college reveal the double standard in its responses to instances of anti-Semitism versus anti-Blackness. It concerns us that administrators and faculty members who have vocalized their condemnation of anti-Semitism have remained relatively silent when incidents of racism, such as the defacement and death threats on the ABUSUA Demands or the March 4th, 2013 events, have merited serious response. 
We are deeply troubled by the persistent conflation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, which is not only ahistorical and unfounded, but also plays a central ideological role in the attempt to undermine legitimate criticism of the state of Israel. This conflation leaves us, as anti-Zionist Jews, without a community to turn to when we do experience anti-Semitism.

We agree with the definition of anti-Semitism laid out by Aurora Levins Morales, a Jewish pro-Palestinian activist; she writes that anti-Semitism, writing about European Jewry under Christianity, functions by creating “a vulnerable buffer group that can be bribed with some privileges into managing the exploitation of others, and then, when social pressure builds, be blamed and scapegoated, distracting those at the bottom from the crimes of those at the top.” In this way, singling out the Rothschilds as masterminds of global capitalism, as Karega did in her posts, has historically worked to blame and scapegoat Jews, while distracting attention from broader systems of capitalist exploitation and imperialism. We want to call in Professor Karega, whom we greatly admire as a professor and activist, and are confident that productive dialogue about collective liberation can occur without vitriolic attack or Zionist apologetics.  

We believe that “Never again for anyone” means that anti-Jewish oppression must be fought alongside anti-Black racism, anti-Arab racism, Islamophobia, and other forms of oppression. In this spirit, we are troubled by the implicit and explicit currents of anti-Black racism prevalent in the mass defamation of Professor Karega. We urge all Jewish students concerned about anti-Semitism to fight with equal passion for Palestinian liberation, Black liberation, and an end to all forms of oppression, on and off campus.

36 thoughts on “Open Letter from Jewish Oberlin Students about Prof. Karega [Updated]

  1. Interesting statement. I’d be curious to hear more about why and how the students wish to “Call In” Prof Karega. I can imagine that more context about Karega’s areas of study might help clarify why and how her political analysis and conspiratorial statements might help us empathize and support her cause? As an anti-Zionist jew, I think it’s important to separate anti-semitism from criticism of Israel, but from the information given in this statement and a few other sources, I understand that Karega has promoted flat-out lies about the US government – separate from her comments about Israel/Jews.
    Oberlin students, could you give us more concrete reasons to support her as an academic and get behind her work? Right now, I have a few critiques of the administration, but I am also wary of this professor’s status as a professional academic at a well-respected college.

  2. What does “We want to call in Professor Karega, whom we greatly admire as a professor and activist, and are confident that productive dialogue about collective liberation can occur without vitriolic attack or Zionist apologetics. ”
    The “in” is wrong – not sure what you mean. Please correct.

    1. You can find a description of the difference between calling “in” and calling “out” in an article posted on Black Girl Dangerous by Ngọc Loan Trần called “Calling IN: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable”. You can look it up easily by googling the title or author!
      An Oberlin Senior

  3. I want to thank Professor Karega for making anti-Semitism respectable again. We need more brave voices like her and Jasmin Puar to alert America about the threat Jews pose to America

  4. She claims Jews are responsible for 911, Isis and Charlie Hebdo. If the college want to start a major in crackpot racist conspiracy , she should be named chair.

  5. Somebody else said it first, but I cannot believe so many words were just spent on Prof. Karega that did not condemn in the strongest terms her prejudiced statements.

  6. Sticking beside a person of an ethnic minority is no excuse. People within minorities are just as able to do harm to others as those from the majority. So please, Jewish students on campus, stop sympathizing with this idiotic professor who spews the very thing she claims to be against…(discrimination)! She is an anti-Semite who has encouraged oppression on campus. She deserves to be fired. Stand up for your deepest beliefs! This woman is a lunatic along with all the other students on campus that feel the food is racist. Get a serious grip Oberlin!

  7. Stand together & stand strong against the loud and aggressive minority oppressors! Be strong for Israel!

  8. Let’s look at this in a different way.
    Oberlin College – Jewish lives matter less than the ability to incite hate and ignorance? conspiracy theories?
    Joy Karega is teaching her students about ideas which have been used to kill Jews.
    would you let other professors to incite violence towards Muslims?
    I think not.
    Do your homework.

  9. This article is a massive failure. It seeks to defend Professor Karega but does not address the substance of Karega’s posts at all. The article is nothing more than a substance-free attack of Karega’s accusers.
    Professor Karega posted about Rothschild-led bankers controlling the government, the media, and the economy. She posted that Zionist Jews were responsible for 9/11. And, she put forth other antisemitic dog-whistles. Outside the bubble of Oberlin College, the rest of the world has recognized the obvious — that these posts convey pure, unadulterated, Jew-hatred. And that recognition spans the political spectrum, from right-wing to left wing, and from Zionists to anti-Zionists.
    This article makes no mention of what Karega actually posted. No doubt, that would be a difficult exercise, because her posts are very ugly and disturbing.
    If people want to credibly defend Karega, they need to address the substance of what she has posted. The failure to do so in this instance demonstrates a knee-jerk reaction devoid of integrity.

    1. This is spot on, Joe. I saw the posts on Prof. Karega’s FB page with my own eyes, and they were tinged with exactly the sort of rhetoric you described, including uncritical references to Rothschild scapegoating, 9-11 “truther” lies, and other similar blood libels – e.g. blaming Mossad for the creation of ISIS, the Charlie Hedbo massacre, and other murderous acts by actual terrorists. Indeed, as an indication of the level of crazy operating here, Prof. Karega was vigorously defended in an article by a Newton, CT massacre “truther,” who denied the events of that tragedy even happened and who demanded that the family of the victim produce evidence that their child existed. He was ultimately dismissed from his academic position for having harassed that family.
      If Prof Karega simply wanted to hold and promote pro BDS views, I wouldn’t be quite as concerned as I am now. While I strongly disagree with such views, and consider their expression to quite often cross the line into antisemitism, they have, alas, become part of the discourse at Oberlin and elsewhere, and are, therefore, not grounds on their own for disciplinary action.
      I find, however, that this letter by JVP student members at Oberlin suggests a kind of tunnel vision, one which fails to examine the totality and context of Prof. Karega’s posts. I would encourage them to see beyond the finding of a kindred pro BDS spirit in Prof. Karega, and to look into whether or not her views extend to include antisemitic conspiracy theories in the guise of anti-Zionism.
      I wouldn’t be inclined to take disciplinary action, however, against Prof. Karega without a more complete investigation of how she conducts her classes and how she interacts with students who hold dissenting views. Does she bring these sort of blatantly antisemitic notions into her classroom and if so, does she present them uncritically? I’d really like to know.

      1. Let us suppose that two semitic individuals (say and Arabic Muslim and an Israeli Jew) conspired against the people of the U.S. in some fashion. Would an accusation against them be considered an anti-semitic conspiracy theory or perhaps a semitic anti-conspirator theory?

    2. Interesting – neither have you addressed, in a rational manner, any of the content of Professor Karega’s assertions – hypocrisy at its finest!

  10. Takeaway: certain Jews of Oberlin are so shamed over Israel that they feel it’s necessary to defend a professor who proliferates blatantly anti-Semitic propaganda. Not anti-Zionist; blaming Jews for their murder in France, claiming that there is a global Jewish conspiracy to control the world, denigrating Holocaust survivors, this is all blatant, undeniable anti-Semitism. This isn’t Debbie Wasserman Schultz trying to ban BDS from California campuses; this is someone whose anti-Semitism is a step short of blood libel.
    Why do radical Jews feel the need to defend her? Why do Jews who are critical of Zionism feel obligated to defend anti-Semites?

  11. For what it is worth, I heard from my son, an Oberlin student, that a lot of Jewish students on campus are angry about this article. They say it does not represent the views of most of the Jews at Oberlin, but only a very tiny fraction of them. To that end, the title to this piece is very misleading.

  12. I’m disappointed that the authors or signees of this statement don’t put their names to it. Jews who have the courage to stand up for anti-Semitism should have the courage to identify themselves.

  13. This piece of willfully blind propaganda is robotic in tone, poorly written and uses accusations and subterfuge to avoid coming to terms with Karega’s unabashed anti-semitism. No doubt she is a hero to JVP Oberlin so desperate to prove their lefty bona fides they throw their intellects under the bus. Karega makes preposterous claims and turns to classic anti semitic tropes and bizarre conspiracy theories all by way of striking a radical pose and JVP uses it as an opportunity to claim that Zionists are infiltrating their precious campus. This goes no where good. I have no problem with Jews advocating for Palestinians or criticizing the state of Israel but supporting Karega is not that. It is giving legitimacy to someone who clearly is unable or unwilling to do actual research and instead simply spews her own twisted prejudices while making naive kids think she is a hip revolutionary fighting for the oppressed. And these kids, so ready to be radical look the other way when she reveals she is fine at oppressing thank you. Pay attention for the next act when she convinces the tools at JVP she is the victim of an oppressive power structure(jews,bankers,the cia, halitosis, whatever) and that her great suffering vindicates her hateful posts. But Karega and JVP are not the only problem. She simply provides a prime example of how empty rhetoric, suffused with hate and paranoia has a happy home when dogmatic adherence to identity politics buries a deeper human awareness that might actually lead to useful uncertainty, real contact and actual learning.

  14. You make it difficult for anyone to defend antisemitism. Pressure should be put on the administration to deal with this appropriately NOT to look the other way A professor can defend BDS and criticize israel or even the Jews as a whole but she or he should NOT be permitted to spread propaganda and conspiracy theories about the Jews being responsible for 9/11, Paris attacks and Malaysian airline Not a single word mentioned here. You are a pathetic group defending someone who has attacked you. Wake up!

  15. Only this fringe, far-left, anti-zionist, anti-Israel publication would publish a letter in support of an openly anti-semitic professor. The people who run Jewschool really are the working part of a rectum.
    Additionally, as far as I’m concerned, there is no difference between anti-zionist Jews (Kapos) and antisemites. They both seek the same thing – Israel’s destruction.

  16. Criticism of Israel crosses over into antisemitism when it uses classic antisemitic stereotypes and conspiracy theories. Joy Karena obviously fits into this category. It does not matter if she “Zionists” or Jews the message is the same old antisemitism.

  17. “We urge all Jewish students concerned about anti-Semitism to fight with equal passion for Palestinian liberation, Black liberation, and an end to all forms of oppression, on and off campus.”
    Yes, I agree, but all students should also fight to end antisemitism too. I don’t have to accept antisemitism to fight all forms of oppression. As Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me.”

  18. I’ll just add, as the editor who communicated with the authors, that I warned them that their potentially relevant arguments (about 1) the double standard they perceive in response to different types of oppression; and 2) the way outside meddlers for outside interests, exploiting the Jewish students, and making it harder for them to respond appropriately) were totally disarmed by their unwillingness to take any of Karega’s accusers seriously, their implication that only racism could be motivating people’s outrage, and their failure to share how they felt about Karega’s statements and what they mean by addressing anti-Semitism. I told them that I was willing to let them use this platform to make their voice heard, but that as an editor, I really thought they were making a mistake and would just embarrass themselves and undermine their goals. I even took the time to propose a structure for a rewrite. They chose to stick with this. It seems that my judgment was, unfortunately, correct.

  19. Morales’s claim is not a “definition of anti-Semitism.” It is an attempt to explain how anti-Semitism functions. It is also a very bad explanation at that, since it is founded on the claim that “the role of Jews” — not just in medieval Europe, but in the US and Middle East too — is to be “blamed and scapegoated” after having been “bribed with privileges into managing the exploitation of others.” Here Morales uses anti-Semitic tropes — the Jew as easily bribed, the Jew as privileged manager, the Jew as exploiter — to apologize for those who carried out anti-Semitic pogroms: their only mistake was they failed to recognize the real powers behind their oppression, and instead went after the Jewish shills. That these students would appeal to such junk while defending Karega’s anti-Semitic posts indicates that they really are blind to the reality of anti-Semitism.

  20. If these students aren’t all from JVP are some of them Oberlin JVP activists? Just who were the signers?

  21. “Across the country, pro-Israel organizations and voices, intent on discrediting the BDS movement,”
    The authors of this leter do more to discredit bds than any pro Israel voice possibly could, and only reinforces the notion that there is a segment of the bds movement that is indeed anti semitic.

  22. True, not all anti-zionism is anti-semitic. However, Professor Karega’s posts were blatantly anti-semitic. This letter doesn’t address that at all, and in fact seems to dodge the issue by speaking in generalities.

  23. It’s really wild how noone actually takes the time to hear what she is saying. You’d think yall thought she was hitler reincarnated the way you are on the defensive. Like even in this article you suggest that she singles out the Rothschild family as “masterminds of global capitalism” she never not once said they were the masterminds. She said they were directly responsible for certain captalist ventures. Is it that a black woman cannot vondemn the actions of thise responsible for her persecution even if they were only tools? Because thats what this feels like in this article. It feels condescending as well like call her in for what? Has there been an increase in anti-jewish violence no. But there sure has been a continued persecution of black people jewish and non-jewish. It would be different if she said straight up that jews were responsible. But no she said nothing like that. She called out a man and a government for there crimes against her and other oppressed people including jewish people. But yall keep associating these momstrous systems and people with jewish people like yall cant see the difference. Maybe yall (the
    as in the people who arr having a hard time disassociating jewish from israel or capitalists) have a guilty conscience. Either way its kinda wild and weird because we blatantly skipping the obvious. Black people were not and could not be responsible for the holocuast because we were burned right alongside european jews or rather in separate camps cuz racism and shit. Only difference is we are still victims of white. supremacy.

  24. As one who knows the Oberlin campus well, I can state with confidence that the group crafting this statement represents a small minority of Jewish students. Furthermore, the views expressed are not endorsed by the majority of Oberlin students, faculty, and staff, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. It is unfortunate that the majority prefers to remain silent hoping to avoid becoming the targets of this misguided fringe group.

    1. Hi Karen:
      I’m pretty sure this is you? I was just looking at old photos of you taken in Fort Tyron Park, NYC, Let me know if you’d like to say hello after all these years.

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