Knee-Jerk Reactions Imperil Good Politics

Marc Blecher, Professor of Politics and East Asian Studies

To the Editors:

Identity politics are crucial, but they are not one size that fits all. Our current crisis shows us the dangers of kneejerk identity politics.

The criticism of Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Composition Joy Karega’s Facebook posts has nothing to do with her race, gender or age. It has only to do with their anti-Semitic content. But by linking them to her identities, her supporters have plunged Oberlin further into the abyss.

Several years ago, Professor of Political Science Norman Finkelstein — a white man, a Jew and the son of Holocaust victims — stridently attacked what he called the “Holocaust industry,” which he accused of cynically using the Holocaust to advance its political and economic interests. He was roundly condemned, including by many Jews, for his work’s anti-Semitism. Looking at the speech, not the speaker — that’s the Oberlin way. What’s happening now is not.

Moreover, many of those same critics also condemned DePaul University for firing him, and at Oberlin, we welcomed him even as we condemned his views. That, too, is the Oberlin way.

So we can trust our faculty governance to make a fair judgment on any personnel issue without discrimination. But let us never hesitate again, even for a moment, in calling out anti-Semitic conspiracy theories when we see them circulating in our community, especially when they come from a member of our faculty, regardless of that colleague’s race, gender or age. The combination of those two approaches — that’s the Oberlin way.

Marc Blecher
Professor of Politics and East Asian Studies