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The Oberlin Review

Student Senate Condemns OCACF Actions


The original version of this letter listed Oberlin J Street U as a consultant. Since the letter’s publication, members of Oberlin J Street U have requested that the organization’s name be removed. For more information, read our full coverage of Student Senate’s letter, ACF’s symposium and students’ responses.

In consultation with current and former members of ABUSUA and Students for a Free Palestine, Student Senate drafted a letter condemning the actions of certain alumni over the last year; including the surveillance, intimidation, marginalization and harassment of students. The text of the letter is below.

Oberlin students,

Since late 2015, a group of Oberlin alumni have driven a narrative of rampant anti-semitism at Oberlin. They created and moderated the secret Facebook page “Obies against BDS,” and organized an Oberlin Chapter of Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF). ACF describes itself as a national network that “organizes alumni to fight the anti-Semitism that is infecting university and college campuses in the guise of anti-Israel activism,” pressuring institutions to provide “comprehensive education, rather than activist propaganda” about Israel and the Middle East, while also seeking to provide “a safe and welcoming environment for students and faculty” with a connection to Israel. However, over the last 10 months, the alums in the Oberlin Chapter of ACF (OCACF) have blatantly disregarded students’ well-being and perspectives in order to push their chosen narrative.

In December 2015, the discussion on Obies against BDS centered on writing a letter to the Oberlin administration articulating concerns over BDS and anti-semitism on campus. When elected student leaders from campus Jewish and pro-Israeli organizations disagreed with and spoke out against the external perception of campus, voicing political disagreement, they were censored and removed from the Facebook group. Some students were even harassed online by alumni moderating the group. Obies against BDS sent their letter to the Oberlin administration in early January, simultaneously publishing it online. Student leaders from Oberlin Zionists, J Street U, and Hillel wrote an op-ed in response, published in February in Cleveland Jewish News, stating that the alumni organizing the letter had little interest in student perspective.

Two days after the op-ed appeared in Cleveland Jewish News, The Tower published its first article on Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Composition Joy Karega’s Facebook posts. OCACF currently takes credit for uncovering these Facebook posts, which notably came soon after the announcement of BDS-advocate and well-respected University of California, Los Angeles Professor Robin Kelley’s impending visit to Oberlin. The Obies against BDS letter contained no concerns about anti-semitic views being expressed by Oberlin faculty, but Professor Karega’s posts were immediately included in OCACF’s narrative of rampant anti-semitism.  What followed can most accurately be described as a witch-hunt, orchestrated by organizations outside of Oberlin’s campus, that discarded previous concerns about anti-semitism within the student body for a more readily identifiable target – Professor Karega.

Since February, concern for students has been appropriated into OCACF’s narrative. In April, OCACF President Melissa Landa (OC ’86) stated that Professor Karega’s views were publicly shared for months and years, part of a hostile environment that Jewish students face at Oberlin. By July OCACF, dissatisfied with the slow-paced enquiry into Professor Karega’s postings, sent a letter to Oberlin’s Board of Trustees expressing their concern that Professor Karega’s anti-semitic views were shared with students on Facebook and during her class sessions.

The effects of this changing narrative can be seen in the response to Professor Karega being placed on paid leave. In a joint statement, The Jewish Federation of Cleveland, the Cleveland Hillel Foundation, AJC Cleveland, and the Anti-Defamation League Cleveland said the paid leave decision “sends an important message about the college’s commitment to seeing that academic freedom is not abused to the detriment of the students.” These organizations also expressed that they “look forward to working with the college in the coming semester to foster a campus climate of openness, acceptance, tolerance and mutual respect where students can learn and thrive.”

OCACF fails to demonstrate any concern for students beyond what is politically valuable for them to articulate. These alumni have tirelessly campaigned to create a false image of Oberlin, damage the value of an Oberlin education, and then assert that the only appropriate response is that which they have already proposed: working groups dominated by those who agree with them and severe punishment for Professor Karega. OCACF’s approach has only served to hurt students who are going to classes, studying, engaging in difficult political discussions, and organizing in activist groups. The upcoming symposium sponsored by OCACF titled “Building A Hate-Free Campus Through Civil Discourse” on September 22nd is a clear representation of their flagrant disregard for students’ interests. This is demonstrated by the fact that student organizations were not involved in the planning or promotion of this symposium, which will be hosted off campus at the The Local. Student Senate does not support the content or approach to this conversation and demands that the response of Oberlin and the community at the very least involve student initiative.

The members of OCACF have perfectly exhibited the types of actions that are detrimental to student led, focused, and oriented initiatives, and student life on campus generally. As students, we are the largest and most present stakeholder in the construction of campus climate. In so being, we repudiate the attempt from OCACF to create a fabricated and falsely adversarial campus environment. Oberlin Student Senate condemns OCACF’s surveillance, intimidation, marginalization, and harassment of Oberlin students, which we believe has impaired the discourse around anti-semitism on campus.

On behalf of Student Senate,

Jeremy Poe, Student Senate Liaison

9/19/16

 

In consultation with current and former student members from

Oberlin Students for a Free Palestine

ABUSUA

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9 Comments

9 Responses to “Student Senate Condemns OCACF Actions”

  1. KS on September 20th, 2016 9:58 AM

    One of the most clear-headed and accurate representation of students feelings I’ve read in a while. I really can’t say enough how much I appreciate this letter. -A current student.

  2. Eli on September 20th, 2016 2:04 PM

    Jewish students at Oberlin have been leaving Oberlin College out of fear of persecution for years now. The alumni of Oberlin are in the unique situation of being able to speak our mind without fear of reprisal. We can speak out against the antisemitic bullies at Oberlin freely in defense of the Jewish students facing discrimination and harassment such as what is demonstrated by the revisionist history displayed by this letter. As such, it is our duty to act against those cowards who can’t stand to even have a civil discourse without responding with false attacks like these. It is our duty to stand for those who can’t stand for themselves.

  3. Mark W Behr on September 20th, 2016 3:23 PM

    Wow. Now students senators are telling alumni that they have created a “fabricated and falsley adversarial campus environment” (ie. the alumni lied!).I guess Oberlin’s alumni should remind those senators that hey have every right to speak out and let the school administration know exactly what they think about any anf0d all campus issues. After all, the alumni have supported the school financially and spiritually for many, many years. Probably even more years than the student senators have been around.

    Mark Behr

  4. Jessa New on September 20th, 2016 4:20 PM

    Dear Jeremy and others in the Oberlin community…please know that The Local, owned and operated by myself a 2001 OC alum decided NOT to host this event after careful consideration of the content and purpose of the symposium. It is my understanding that the event is being hosted at The Inn.

  5. Z on September 20th, 2016 8:25 PM

    As a Student Senate, it should then concern you that students are transferring out, others are 100% disengaging with the college upon graduation, current students are confiding in these same alumni with both physical and emotional fears while on campus, and future would-be students are not wanting to attend Oberlin, citing that vitriolic anti-Semitism, masked as anti-Israel sentiment, existing long before OCACF was around, as the cause. But this wasn’t an issue to the Student Senate until OCACF stood up for those disenfranchised people. Instead, the student complaints of anti-Semitism, which are rampant and have been well documented, have been swept under the rug or dismissed. Maybe instead of pointing the finger at the alumni, the presiding Student Senate might want to look at itself and ask how they have encouraged this atmosphere, how they haven’t protected their fellow students, and how their deplorable non-response to a professor’s rampant anti-Semitic posts contribute to the reputation that Oberlin is an anti-Semitic hotbed.

    The fact that this letter defends Professor Karega is despicable. This is someone who took images from White Nationalist Trump-thumping website, Stormfront, and posted it on her Facebook page. This is someone who White Nationalists, Holocaust Deniers, and neo-Nazi movement groups have defended, yet somehow, the courage to condemn her still has yet to come from this Student Senate. Ipso Facto, you align yourself with these aforementioned right-wing fascist racist groups in the defense of Professor Karega. It is appalling that you call out alumni willing to stand up for the disenfranchised students amongst you while you sit there, doing nothing, excepting further disparaging the reputation of Oberlin. It is clear that the inmates are running the asylum, and it is shambolic that you have the audacity to condemn alumni who are helping give voice to and protect students currently on your campus where you have been absent.

  6. Paul S. Treuhaft, MD, MA (1964) on September 21st, 2016 3:22 AM

    It is dismaying to say the least to read a piece such as this one by Mr. Poe in the current issue of the Review. To those of us who are Jewish, this reads as one more anti-Semitic attack by people who are unable to separate their political ideas from bigotry and hatred. The fact that this piece is informed by un-named representatives of organizations on Campus with a long and well known record of anti-Semitism illustrates the point.

    Anyone who has followed this issue on campus for any length of time will understand that what might have all along been a civil political debate has long since degenerated into rather ugly bigotry and name calling. The matter of Joy Karega, while cut from the same cloth, is really tangential to the central issue here. The material Ms. Karega posted on her Facebook account was clearly anti-Semitic; there is no arguing the fact. Buried in the commotion, however, is the clear idea that just as no person of color would tolerate a white person using racial epithets and trying to excuse them by offering a spurious explanation, so no Jew can look at anti-Semitic language and not recognize it for what it is. We are the arbiters of hatred directed in our direction, whether intentional or not, based in ignorance or knowledge. We have earned this right over the last 2000 years.

    Those of you who choose to use such language should realize that in this day of social media, what you post will follow you long and far into the future. Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.

    ACF exists for only one purpose, and that is to oppose anti-Semitism on college campuses so that Jewish students can study and learn along with everyone else. On many campuses, anti-Semitism is so deeply embedded that it goes unrecognized by many. This is true in part at Oberlin. You never hear from or about the students who are too fearful to speak openly about the hatred that has been directed their way; you know nothing of the students who have chosen to leave Oberlin for the same reasons. Well, we know about them, what they have experienced and what they fear, and since the College as yet has failed to recognize this issue fully, we want to do our part to make what has been hidden open and public, so that all can contribute their ideas and see them stand or fall on the merits, rather on the basis of bigotry. This is simple, open, honest and direct.. If you think otherwise, make your case in the same spirit.

  7. Isaac Rubinson on September 21st, 2016 4:16 AM

    So, when an Oberlin professor posts anti-Semitic trash on their social media pages, Oberlin alumni should have no say? After paying four years of tuition and fees of some $60,000 per year, an Oberlin alum should just, what?, shut up? Ignore the racism?

    I wonder, if it were a faculty member posting anti-Black racist trash from a KKK website, and alumni would speak up about that, would the Student Senate rush to the defense of the offending prof? Would the Student Senate refer to such racism as a “chosen narrative.”

    Specifically, Karega posted a meme with a photo of Jacob Rothschild, saying “We own nearly every central bank in the world. We financed both sides of every war since Napoleon. We own your news, the media, your oil and your government.”

    This evocation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is repugnant. The Protocols was used by Hitler in Mein Kampf to justify his genocide of the Jews.

    Just because Karega is Black doesn’t make her any less of an anti-Semite. One may even say has she learned the lessons of her own people’s oppression? How hate-filled words lead to violence, mass murder, oppression.

    And the Student Senate, as students, you have much to learn. Unfortunately, you have faculty leading you in false directions.

    Shame on you.

  8. Stan Nadel on September 21st, 2016 5:45 AM

    So the student senate which has never condemned Prof. Karega’s Antisemitism or questioned her appropriateness as a professor at Oberlin, now comes out with a condemnation of those who brought attention to Karega’s outrageous utterings and includes an implicit defense of Prof. Karega, who seems to be considered a victim here — naturally “In consultation with current and former student members from Oberlin Students for a Free Palestine” Shame on the student senate for this defense of an Antisemitic professor and attack on her critics.

  9. Marta B Tanenbaum on September 21st, 2016 1:45 PM

    (As Secretary of OCACF, I’m submitting this text in full, upon request of Dr. Paul Treuhaft today.— Marta Braiterman Tanenbaum ’72)

    It is dismaying to say the least to read a piece such as this one by Mr. Poe in the current issue of the Review. To those of us who are Jewish, this reads as one more anti-Semitic attack by people who are unable to separate their political ideas from bigotry and hatred. The fact that this piece is informed by un-named representatives of organizations on Campus with a long and well known record of anti-Semitism illustrates the point.
    Anyone who has followed this issue on campus for any length of time will understand that what might have all along been a civil political debate has long since degenerated into rather ugly bigotry and name calling. The matter of Joy Karega, while cut from the same cloth, is really tangential to the central issue here. The material Ms. Karega posted on her Facebook account was clearly anti-Semitic; there is no arguing the fact. Buried in the commotion, however, is the clear idea that just as no person of color would tolerate a white person using racial epithets and trying to excuse them by offering a spurious explanation, so no Jew can look at anti-Semitic language and not recognize it for what it is. We are the arbiters of hatred directed in our direction, whether intentional or not, based in ignorance or knowledge. We have earned this right over the last 2000 years.
    Those of you who choose to use such language should realize that in this day of social media, what you post will follow you long and far into the future. Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.
    ACF exists for only one purpose, and that is to oppose anti-Semitism on college campuses so that Jewish students can study and learn along with everyone else. On many campuses, anti-Semitism is so deeply embedded that it goes unrecognized by many. This is true in part at Oberlin. You never hear from or about the students who are too fearful to speak openly about the hatred that has been directed their way; you know nothing of the students who have chosen to leave Oberlin for the same reasons. Well, we know about them, what they have experienced and what they fear, and since the College as yet has failed to recognize this issue fully, we want to do our part to make what has been hidden open and public, so that all can contribute their ideas and see them stand or fall on the merits, rather on the basis of bigotry. This is simple, open, honest and direct.. If you think otherwise, make your case in the same spirit.

Established 1874.
Student Senate Condemns OCACF Actions