Oberlin College president to discuss campus anti-Semitism with alums


(JTA) — The president of Oberlin College will speak with two members of an alumni group that has raised concerns about the anti-Semitic climate on campus.

Marvin Krislov will conduct a phone conversation with the alums of the Ohio liberal arts college on Friday. Krislov had been scheduled to hold a meeting Tuesday with an alum to discuss the issue.

The phone call comes several weeks after 200 alumni wrote to the college administration to voice concern about the actions of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS, at Oberlin and a school culture they believe tolerates anti-Semitism.

“Several student organizations at Oberlin have assumed the role as the mouthpiece of the BDS movement, which claims to be a defender of Palestinian rights, but whose inflammatory language falsely portraying Israel as an illegitimate, colonialist and murderous regime demonstrates that its primary goal is to demonize the Jewish state,” read the letter dated Jan. 3. “Because participation in these groups requires denouncing Israel, the message to Jewish students can be summed up as follows: Either forfeit your allegiance to Israel and join us, or we will brand you as an enemy of justice and complicit in the oppression of the Palestinian people.”

The letter mentioned several incidents at the school, including the expulsion of the Kosher Halal co-op from the Oberlin Student Cooperation Association and a protest against Israel on Rosh Hashanah that Jewish students had to pass through on their way to holiday services.

The threat that vocal opponents of the Jewish state pose for Jewish and pro-Israel students has been much discussed in Jewish circles in recent weeks. The debate has been propelled in large part by the rise of intersectionality, a theory that posits that all forms of oppression are interrelated and must be fought as one. The idea has served as the basis for the growing partnerships between pro-Palestinian groups and other campus protest movements.

On Friday, a group of LGBTQ and pro-Palestinian activists shut down a reception at a Chicago conference that featured representatives of Jerusalem Open House, a gay advocacy organization based in Israel.

Oberlin has a reputation as a particularly liberal and activist college, and in the wake of the Jan. 3 letter, Jewish alumni have taken to Facebook to share examples of activities they witnessed that veered toward anti-Semitism.

“The multiple times the Holocaust was referred to as ‘white on white crime’ by my POC peers and hip white Jewish peers,” Oberlin alumnus Isabel Sherrizzy wrote in a Jan. 11 Facebook post listing numerous experiences that made her uncomfortable as a student.

The Oberlin student group Students for a Free Palestine responded to the alumni letter with a letter of its own rejecting the charges of anti-Semitism and vowing to continue its protest of Israel.

“We see these accusations as a way to limit the free speech of students, silence political activism, and intimidate pro-Palestinian activists,” the group wrote. “We believe that solidarity with an oppressed people and demands to defend their human rights do not and will never constitute anti-Semitism. It is our conviction of self-determination and autonomy that will continue to drive us, no matter how many attempt to malign us, to call for a free Palestine.”

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