Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Student Addresses Obies for Israel Letter


Every hour that passes, 15 people are killed in Gaza — six are children. Thirty-five people are injured. And according to the Israel Defense Forces’ own report, in the first six days of the war, 42 bombs were dropped. More than 100 journalists have been killed since the start of the genocide post-Oct. 7. The only word that I can use to describe how I feel is rage. I watch newspapers describe it as a “war,” calling the attack on Israelis “deadly” but calling the deaths of 32,000 people in Gaza “ground campaigns.” When I saw the article by Ori Josell titled “Zionism is De-Colonialism” in the Review detailing the “liberal origins” of Israel (April 26, 2024), all I could feel, once again, was pure rage. 

This article is not an attack on personal character. This article addresses a number of claims from the original article that are incorrect or perpetuate tired rhetoric about the conflict itself. I’m not able to address every single problem I have with the article, so the extent of the claims addressed will be Josell’s wider points. 

In the second paragraph, Josell addresses posters claiming that the pictures from Oct. 7 were fake in tandem with slogans written in Tappan Square by Students for a Free Palestine. Conflating the spreading of false information and slogans as being representative of the entire Oberlin anti-Zionist movement is unfair. In the next statement, he uses both the poster and the slogan as inherent proof that the movement is “beyond disrespectful to the Jewish people.” The mentioning of the protest and the posters, one of which was an official event sponsored by Students for a Free Palestine and the other being fliers posted anonymously on campus, is an unfair conflation of the two. 

In this same paragraph, Josell denounces the “anti-Zionist talking points that imply babies’ complicity in a nonexistent genocide.” This is hard to reconcile with, considering the fact that the death toll racked up by the IDF in this “war” includes 14,500 children. Sixteen premature babies died of malnutrition-related causes in one hospital in Gaza. Deaths from malnutrition can be directly attributed to the fact that Israel has made it near impossible for aid trucks to enter Gaza, also harming the same hostages that Israel claims to want to save, although it shot three hostages waving a white flag. In this vein, it feels fair to say that the justification of the military assault on Gaza becomes harder and harder to understand as more and more children die, implying their complicity in a movement they are too young to be supporting in any substantial way. 

The most remembered aspect of Malcolm X’s philosophy is centered around his radical ideas and desire for a separatist state for Black people in the U.S. The state would allow for the safety and nourishment of Black people, a haven from other societies that treated them with racist attitudes. The hypothetical independent nation with a Black majority has dismissed as ridiculous and impossible to realize. Diversity and secularity is part of the beauty of liberal democracy, after all. How come when it comes to Israel, we differ? Though nationalism and separatism can be expressed as natural responses to facing discrimination, they are not necessarily the correct ones.

Josell defines Zionism as the movement for the self-determination of the Jewish people, stating that anti-Zionism implies antisemitism. This ignores the now political connotation of Zionism as it relates to the state of Israel and its policies. Anti-Zionist activists are defined by their rejection of colonial policies introduced by Israel and Britain onto Palestine, subjugating Palestinians to a second-class citizenship status.

Zionism was given its political spin by the “father of Zionism” Theodor Herzl, who was responding the antisemitic “Jewish Question.” The Jewish Question was a debate in Europe that addressed the place of the Jewish person within society. Prominent men in European society wondered whether or not Jewish people would ever be able to coexist with non-Jewish, white Europeans. Herzl offered the establishment of a Jewish state as a way to rid the countries of their problem altogether and in an attempt to create a haven for all Jewish people. In his “Solution to the Jewish Question,” Herzl also states another pro to the colonization of Palestine: they could “also form a portion of the rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilisation as opposed to barbarism.” (Theodor Herzl, “A Solution to the Jewish Question).”One of the benefits of colonization was the idea of introducing ‘civilization’ to the Arab natives who were representative of Asian “barbarism.” 

In Herzl’s writing, he refers to past attempts to create a Jewish state in Palestine as attempts at “colonization.” It’s not just Herzl, however. An organization created to facilitate the mass emigration of Jews to Palestine, amongst other places, was called the Jewish Colonization Association. Another father of Zionism, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, described Zionism as “a colonization adventure.” Professor of Political Science at Tel Aviv University Amal Jamal described Israel as being “created by a settler colonial movement of Jewish immigrants.”

Though some dispute the claim that it could be settler colonialism on the basis that both populations are indigenous to the land, the systematic manner in which Jewish immigrants moved into Palestine is what makes it settler colonialism. Early Zionists knew that the establishment of a Jewish state would not be possible without the help of Western powers. The creation of Israel was only possible by aligning itself with imperial powers, first with Britain, second with the United States. The prior quote by Herzl is an example of the appeal to the Western world — where Israel would stand in the Middle East as a bastion of Western ideals and aid in Western geopolitical expansion. 

Now, Zionists are quick to reject the claim that the movement is or was in any way colonial. The disputes can be based on the idea that both Palestinians and Jewish people are indigenous to the land, but the fact is over time, colonialism has gained a negative connotation as the Western world started to recognize the horrors of colonialism. You do not get to absorb or reject narratives when it is most beneficial to you. 

If you take the claim from Josell’s article on its surface level, that Zionism’s “primary goal is that Jews have their own country where they can feel safe,” it is still ill-informed. Israel is a racist state. The existence of Jews of color does not change the fact that it has carried out racist acts in the same way that the existence of African Americans in America did not deter Jim Crow laws. If the argument is that Israel was established to be a safe state for all Jews, it is not doing that job well. According to a study done by Hanan Chehata, all Jewish people are not equal in the state of Israel. For Ethiopian Jews, their existence in Israel has been underlined by systemic racism, birth control without consent, and police brutality. 

Oberlin does not silence Zionist perspectives. We simply have the American ‘marketplace of ideas,’ and students are allowed to react to ideas in the way in which they please, as long as it does not harm anyone. The hypothetical proposed by Josell of a student holding an Israeli flag played out when a seder in Wilder Bowl featured an Israeli flag. No physical or verbal violence befell the group. 

I chose to attend Oberlin because I was aware of its connotation with social justice movements. But in the same way Oct. 7 has been a shock and horror to Jewish families, the continued violence against Gazans reminds me that violence against bodies that look like mine mean less in the Western world. Any person who aligns themselves slightly against the violence taking place against Gazans needs to scream to the high heavens that they don’t support Hamas. Zionist perspectives in the United States constitute the U.S. government and legislation, anti-Zionist perspectives are personified by students being tased and professors being pinned to the ground. The country’s climate scares me, and more significantly, the amount of violence and terror faced by Gazans scares me, and I wish anti-Zionist perspectives were respected in places of authority. 

More to Discover