Jewish student leaders at Oberlin College push back against alumni on BDS issues

The Carnegie Building on the Oberlin College campus, Oberlin, Ohio (Wikimedia Commons)

The Carnegie Building on the Oberlin College campus in Ohio (Wikimedia Commons)

(JTA) — Jewish student leaders at Oberlin College in Ohio pushed back against an alumni effort to “defeat” the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement against Israel.

“We as students want to have meaningful, nuanced conversations about Israel,” Oberlin students Eli Hovland, Emily Isaacson and Sarah Keller wrote in an Op-Ed published this week on the website of the Cleveland Jewish News. “Our approach delves into the complexities of the conflict and works to change the polarizing dynamics on campus.

“Unfortunately, we have been reminded recently that in the broader off-campus fight over BDS and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, our voices and experiences are often devalued as naive or inconsequential.”

Hovland is co-chair of the Oberlin Hillel, Isaacson is an Oberlin J Street U leader and Keller is chair of Oberlin Zionists.

The students were responding to the “Obies Against BDS” alumni Facebook page. The alumni group sent a letter to the college administration to voice concern about the actions of the BDS movement at Oberlin and a school culture they believe tolerates anti-Semitism.

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. Oberlin has a reputation as a particularly liberal and activist college.

The current student leaders said the language of the alumni letter “lack(ed) a nuanced understanding of the complex dynamics on Oberlin’s campus.” The students were upset that “there was virtually no student involvement or input on the letter’s contents.”

According to the students, prior to the drafting of the alumni letter, “Leaders from every Jewish and Israel group on campus wrote a response to this group sharing how, through our work on campus and experiences as students, we’ve realized that the best tool against anti-Israel sentiment is open, honest conversation about the realities on the ground and our responsibility to change them. We asked for language which included a call to end settlement expansion and other obstacles to lasting peace and a two-state solution. We all agreed that working to end the occupation and achieve a two-state resolution is vital for the future of a Jewish and democratic Israel.”

The students stated that “progressive student voices are ignored or disregarded by those who are viewing Oberlin from afar.”

The students concluded: “We look forward to working with the broader Jewish and pro-Israel communities to address the realities and root causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a way that upholds our values and works toward real change for the people of the region.”

Jewish alumni and Oberlin’s president, Marvin Krislov, met in a conference call earlier this month. No details of the meeting were made public.

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