174 Oberlin profs sign letter condemning colleague’s anti-Semitic posts


(JTA) — A letter condemning an Oberlin professor’s anti-Semitic Facebook posts has garnered signatures from the majority of the Ohio college’s faculty members, but has generated criticism from some professors of Africana studies.

Politics professor Marc Blecher, one of the letter’s organizers and drafters, shared the letter with JTA but asked that the signers’ names not be published because he had not asked them for authorization to do so. Blecher said their names appeared “on a public Oberlin College document.” The letter says “we condemn any manifestation of bigotry on our campus — especially from our faculty.”

The letter does not name Joy Karega, the rhetoric and composition professor whose posts, including one accusing Israel and “Rothschild-led bankers” of responsibility for downing a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine in 2014, drew widespread attention after The Tower published an article about them in February.

The article came on the heels of a letter from Oberlin alumni expressing concern about the tolerance of anti-Semitism on campus, particularly within the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

Karega has not apologized for her posts. Oberlin’s president, Marvin Krislov has issued two statements in response, both emphasizing Karega’s right to free speech while clarifying that her views are not shared by the administration. Neither statement condemned the professor outright or suggested her job might be affected.

The school’s board of trustees, however, has called for the administration to launch an investigation into Karega’s “anti-Semitic and abhorrent” posts.

According to Inside Higher Ed,  some faculty members who declined to sign the letter have said they believe that Karega, who is African-American, is being blamed for larger concerns about anti-Semitism on campus. Others have objected to the letter’s focus on anti-Semitism, saying it should also address other kinds of prejudice on campus.

“In this climate and context, I will not sign any letter in solidarity with the 170 (last I saw) Oberlin faculty who signed,” wrote Gillian Johns, associate professor of English and Africana studies, according to Inside Higher Ed. “I am outraged at the irresponsible hostility drummed up against [Karega] as a scapegoated target for what we have been led to believe is a more general concern about anti-Semitism at Oberlin, especially when students called for cooler heads and we Africana faculty are repeatedly called upon to understand and model for our students appropriate responses to different scales of anti-Black racism.”

Several students, including four self-described “anti-Zionist Jews” who published a letter to the editor of the student newspaper, have come to Karega’s defense.

The full letter condemning anti-Semitism says:

“When the anti-Semitic Facebook posts by one of our colleagues came to light, many of us on the Oberlin faculty initially thought it prudent to wait for our administration to come forward with a response grounded in careful deliberation and due process. It has now become clear that these complex discussions are going to take a while longer. In light of that as well as the profound, ongoing questions and concerns of our students, their families, our alums, prospective students, their families, and the many people around the country who look to Oberlin, the time has finally come for us to go on record, and especially to reassure our students.

“Bigotry has no place on the Oberlin campus (or anywhere). It sullies the values of equality and mutual support that are embedded in our institutional DNA as the first coeducational college and the first to admit students of all races as a matter of policy. It undermines our classrooms as places where students and faculty accord each other the deep respect required for the exercise of free and open expression and the development of reasoned analysis grounded in evidence. It subverts our capacity and responsibility to conduct and publish our scholarship, especially on questions of social justice. As scholars and teachers who treasure all Oberlin has been and must continue to be, we condemn any manifestation of bigotry on our campus — especially from our faculty.”

CORRECTION: This article originally stated that the faculty who signed Marc Blecher’s letter asked to remain anonymous. They made no such request, and their signatures appeared on a public Oberlin College document. However, Blecher thought that “some might prefer not to make that available to the press.”

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