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In Academe, Shouldn’t Blatant and Repeated Anti-Semitism Be a Fireable Offense?

It was recently revealed that a professor at Oberlin College had been posting numerous anti-Semitic and anti-Israel messages on her Facebook page. The college president defended her right to free speech.

Jordana Narin
March 04, 2016
Bosworth Hall, Oberlin College.Wikimedia
Bosworth Hall, Oberlin College.Wikimedia

Lately it seems like all anyone’s Jewish grandparents talk about these days is the pervasive anti-Israel sentiment found on college campuses in the U.S. In actuality, however, I’ve found that the silent majority actually doesn’t care that much either way. So while BDS campaigns and solidarity activism between pro-Palestinian and other leftist groups aren’t “fun” for students who choose to cultivate political views more nuanced than those of an eggplant, they also aren’t threatening to us, whether we agree with them or not. And I go to Columbia.

Occasionally, though, the discourse can descend from legitimate to dangerous. I’m talking about flat-out, no-holds-barred, in-your-face anti-Semitism. And when that monster rears its head, I’m left scratching my own.

Recently, Joy Karega, a rhetoric and composition professor at Oberlin College, was revealed to have posted wildly anti-Semitic and anti-Israel content, often in the form of conspiracy theories, on her personal Facebook page. According to Karega, the Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency, was the true mastermind of last year’s Charlie Hebdo massacre; ISIS is the product of a CIA-Mossad collaboration; the IDF shot down that Malaysian airliner over Ukraine; and Jews were behind the attacks on 9/11. Karega also posted this meme of Jacob Rothschild, a clear satirization of various anti-Semitic tropes, such as claiming that Jews secretly control the world (or, in this case, at least “your news, the media, your oil, and your government”). (Her beliefs appear to extend beyond anti-Semitism, too.)

Karega’s views are vile and racist. And yet she is still employed, still teaching.

In response to calls for her dismissal, Oberlin president Marvin Krislov—a self-described “practicing Jew” and “grandson of an Orthodox rabbi” whose family members “were murdered in the Holocaust”—defended Karega. In an email to Oberlin’s student body, Krislov wrote that even though he understands Karega’s views “cause[d] pain for many people—members of our community and beyond,” she would be keeping her position because of her right to express “personal views.”

When I read Krislov’s comments, I thought maybe I wasn’t seeing clearly. The fact that her anti-Semitism isn’t seen as grounds for firing her—when other professors at other universities who’ve engaged in similar, if much less deliberate, prejudices or offenses against other minority groups are dismissed immediately—speaks volumes to the double standard to which Jewish students are held. I’m often the first person person to condemn false accusations of anti-Semitism. I go to Columbia University, deemed the most anti-Semitic campus in the U.S by a few web-dwelling fearmongers, and will readily admit that I have yet to encounter a blatant anti-Semite at school. But Karega’s Facebook posts are undeniably bigoted.

Jewish students are expected not to care when an anti-Semite is dignified and validated with the weight of an entire university behind her. We’re told to let it go or not take it personally; that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinions. But the same would never be expected of other minority students—as it shouldn’t be. Recently, when a professor at St. Lawrence College in Ontario, Canada posted homophobic remarks on his personal facebook page, he was fired. When a professor at the University of Kansas used the n-word in class, no matter that it was in the context of discussing her own white privilege, she was suspended. Yes, these professors had the right to freedom of expression, especially in an academic setting. But the universities they were employed by also had the right to disassociate themselves. Why won’t Oberlin do the same with Karega?

Jordana Narin is an intern at Tablet