Paying the Price
Oberlin College in Ohio is recognized as one of the premier universities in the United States. Aside from academics, its student body zealously responds to any cultural, ethnic, gender or racial bias on campus or beyond.
With one exception, apparently…
Last winter, Joy Karega, a respected Oberlin assistant professor of rhetoric and composition made headlines for her own incendiary anti-Semitic rhetoric and composition. While posting on Facebook, Karega shared her hostility toward Israel. She opined that ISIS was run by both the CIA and by Mossad. She doctored a photo which displayed a terrorist with a Jewish star tattooed on his arm; when shedding the mask on his face that terrorist is revealed to be PM Benjamin Netanyahu. She posted a video asserting that Israel perpetrated 9/11. She claimed the Jewish state downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and the Mossad perpetrated the Charlie Hebdo attacks. She shared an anti-Semitic memo of Jewish banker Jacob Rothschild that declared, “We own your news, the media, your oil, and your government.”
For her despicable and false accusations (and there was more) Karega had neither been fired nor sanctioned by the Oberlin administration until this past August; long after her poisonous comments went public. After months of vacillating, the Oberlin administration gave her paid leave for the Fall semester. The administration’s decision, however suggested the kind of slow process which should not have been tolerated. Aside from Karega’s egregious distortions of the truth, the subsequent timidity, passivity and silence of Oberlin’s Jewish students resonated throughout the general Jewish world. In The Daily Beast (an American website which focuses on politics and pop culture), Emily Shire wrote an aptly titled response to Oberlin: Why Are Oberlin’s Students So Silent About Anti-Semitism? The author suggested that only when it comes to defending Israel the Oberlin student body maintains an unusual and disproportionate silence. Shire acknowledged a small group of Jewish, pro-Israel Oberlin students who spoke with her on condition of anonymity. Oberlin students supportive of Israel felt besieged; increasingly threatened, censored and silenced by their peers and by the Oberlin community. Any Jewish student articulating an ounce of pro Israel sentiment has been branded as a racist. The article even referred to a campus minority group, which- in the course of petitioning the administration for greater equality- expressed support for the BDS anti-Israel movement. Israel was not central to their demands, and no other country was mentioned in their petition. Nevertheless, those students took aim at Israel. The article highlights a campus double standard: How anti gay or racist remarks are considered ‘hate speech’ but anti -Semitic or anti-Israel remarks are not.
A group of Oberlin students-identifying themselves as anti-Zionist Jews-did however write a statement in support of Professor Karega:
We want to call in Professor Karega, whom we greatly admire
as a professor and activist, and are confident that productive dialogue about collective liberation can occur without vitriolic
attack or Zionist apologetics. We believe that “Never again for anyone” means that anti-Jewish oppression must be fought
alongside anti-Black racism, anti-Arab racism, Islamophobia,
and other forms of oppression. In this spirit, we are troubled
by the implicit and explicit currents of anti-Black racism
prevalent in the mass defamation of Professor Karega.
Reading between the lines, Jewish students, who fight on behalf of every cause known to humanity, refused to acknowledge any singular bias against Jews. “Never again’ was invoked as a global motto rather than as an exclusive reference to the Holocaust. Instead of condemning Karega for hateful, distorted and irresponsible language; these Jewish students both defended her and accused her critics of blatant racism. The ‘Zionist apologetics’ phrase they invoked has been a recurring theme in countless anti-Semitic and anti-Israel publications and statements. Ultimately, the Jewish students from Oberlin called for ‘outsiders’ to stay out of the conversation and to allow the student body to proceed as normal. If the student body; in defending the highest ideals of democracy, wishes to promote or protect anti-Semitic professors, so be it…
Sadly, when it comes to false accusations against Jews or Israel, we are accustomed to revisionist history; to the musings of people and nations ignorant of Judaism, Jewish history and Jewish experience. When support for such thinking emanates from Jews-whether on campus or elsewhere- anti-Semitism becomes an expression of self hate.
Reflected in Oberlin are two types of palpable silence. One is the silence and passivity of Jewish students who defend every humanitarian cause except the Jewish cause. The second type of silence is the forced silence imposed on the minority of pro-Jewish and pro-Israel students; denied cherished freedoms of expression deserved by everyone else. Oberlin is a microcosm of the anti-Semitic atmosphere throughout American universities. Support for the BDS movement has grown. Unless we take measures in response, our Jewish students supportive of Israel will become more alienated than ever. Such is not the college experience we envision for our children. In this new year of 5777, we take stock not only of the anti-Semitism from without, but the alarming reality of Jewish self-hatred from within.
To be clear: Many of us express occasional-or even frequent- criticism of Israeli policy. The hallmark of Israeli democracy lies in the freedom of public expression which Israel’s citizens enjoy and which supporters of Israel cherish, even when being critical. Yet, underlying such criticism is a deep and abiding love for Medinat Yisrael and for Am Yisrael. Such however is not the prevailing condition throughout the world. Despite claims to the contrary, anti-Semitism and anti-Israel have become virtually synonymous. One merely needs to hear or read the vindictive rhetoric of those who profess to be anti-Israel but not anti-Jewish. When Jews condone or dismiss such thinking, we share responsibility
Milan Chatterjee is an Indian-American Hindu law student. He was a former graduate student body president at UCLA. When he refused to allocate campus funds to an event that either promoted or rejected the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement regarding Israel, he was harassed, bullied, accused and threatened by several pro BDS organizations. The harassment became so severe that he recently transferred out of UCLA. Chatterjee is clearly not Jewish and did little to warrant such hostility. Yet, the anti-Israel forces at UCLA drove him away from the school he loved. All this in our country; not in hostile Europe where anti-Semitism has become as habitual as morning coffee…
Alan Dershowitz, who is admired as a passionate and public defender of Israel,observed that one might offer a rational argument for BDS, were it a global movement targeted against many discriminatory nations. However, since BDS targets Israel exclusively, its Movement simply reflects the newest incarnation of anti-Semitism. Boycotting Israel is an act of gross hypocrisy by people who support BDS but who reap the benefits of Israel’s unprecedented accomplishments in science, Israel’s advancement’s in women’s rights, in gay rights, in medicine and in agriculture. Boycotting Israel dismisses Israel’s remarkable political openness and inclusion; not to mention Israel’s standards of humanity, best illustrated each time Israel is first to dispatch medical teams and immediate aid to a nation in trauma.
Pro BDS college students, and their counterparts of all ages, take inspiration from other internationally respected sources of anti-Semitic ferment, such as the UN. Before summer, the UN Human Rights Council (which had welcomed as members such humanitarian nations as China, Russia, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela), came together for one item on its agenda: A resolution to condemn Israel.
Syria, bastion of human rights accused Israel of exploiting terrorism to continue to occupy parts of the Arab territories.
Qatar, on behalf of the 22-nation Arab Group decried Israel’s violence and terrorism worldwide.
The Non-Aligned Movement, represented by Iran, condemned Israel’s ongoing illegal colonization.
And Pakistan excoriated Israel for its cynical discourse of being victimized and singled out at the UN.
These leading suppressors of all human rights not only are granted an international forum to spread such outrage, but they are universally celebrated . As Dennis Ross concluded in his recent book Doomed to Succeed; the Middle East nations which accuse Israel of colonization, care little about the Palestinian people aside for the political leverage they gain in doing so. Meanwhile, Google the list of Arab representatives on Israel’s Knesset and imagine how Jews would be received in the present governments of Syria, Saudi Arabia or Iran…More troublesome for me, however, is the deafening silence of our Jewish community when the aforementioned nations spew their accusations and condemnations.
When Jews speak out, they too often reflect the young students of Oberlin, who bear false witness to Israel’s past and present and embolden the enemies of Israel.
In Avinu Malkenu we read the verse:
Avinu Malkenu, haraym keren Yisrael Amekha
Our Support and Rescuer, cause Your people Israel to be exalted.
Exalted can be defined as being held in high regard.
Sadly, those words in Avinu Malkenu represent aspiration; they do not reflect reality. Israel is demonized by the ignorant anti-Semite from without and by the uninformed Jew from within. Before we can ever expect the world to exalt Israel in speech and deed; we in the Jewish community must do so ourselves.
This does not mean we grant Israel or any specific Israeli government carte blanche to do as it wishes; it does not mean we remain silent about dismantling designated settlements or advocating for Palestinian rights which need to be respected. What it means however is that (as we would do in an America we love) we embrace and defend Israel for all its good; that we exalt Israel for being a nation open to internal criticism and self-reflection. We exalt an Israel where minorities sit in the Knesset and where human rights are the norm; as opposed to other nations in the Middle East, where (as publicly documented) human rights are the exception.
I had opportunity recently to meet with Ron Dermer, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States. Ambassador Dermer made an insightful observation: The world calls upon us to move forward after the Holocaust; since the anti-Semitic era of Adolf Hitler is long over. Dermer reminded us that long before Hitler there lived other, rabid anti-Semites unfamiliar to most Jews, and certainly unfamiliar to the global population. As an example he mentioned Bogdan Chmelnitsky; a notorious Ukrainian who in the early 17th century massacred Jews. His point was that anti-Semitism has been a constant throughout history.
The decades after the Shoah (when Israel and the Jewish people were elevated on a pedestal for courage and persistence), constituted an aberration of history and not the norm. Today, people are turning back to old hatreds; and BDS is a proof text. Moreover, we Jews who were raised during those fifty years of aberration were raised with the ideals of a balanced world. We were raised to believe that in our advocacy for humanitarian rights no one nation deserved favored status. When it came to Israel therefore, we ignored historical realities and failed to think or envision beyond our own narrow idealism. We ignored the reality of Israel’s self defense being truly an existential fight against neighbors whose own, deeply rooted religious convictions allow for no alternative other than total destruction of Israel.
We therefore have reduced Israel’s military actions to a balance sheet of simplistic information which never conveys a complete picture.
We took buzz words like equality and humanity, and applied them critically to Israel without having an ounce of understanding either about Israel or about Jewish history.
We then passed on such thinking to our children.
Ambassador Dermer put the question in the following terms:
We either stand with Israel and its liberal progressive
values; stand with Israel to expose the hypocrisy of
nations which suppress minorities or any free speech;
or we stand with enemies of this thinking
(my commentary now) would negate our so called defense of
As we begin 5777, the greater Jewish community is still unmoved by the sustained anti-Israel and anti-Jewish fervor on campus and beyond. In the Mahzor section The Sounding of the Shofar, we read words from Maimonides:
THE SHOFAR EXCLAIMS: WAKE UP FROM YOUR SLUMBER…
It is time for us to heed that call.
Last year, a pro-Israel Jewish student at UCLA was almost denied a rightful spot on the student’s judicial board because of her pro-Israel advocacy. Rabbi Daniel Gordis wrote a column in response. He began with an emphatic statement:
It is time to say that we have had enough.
Europe will never be cured of the disease called anti-Semitism; increasingly, the disease will cross the ocean to the US as well.
We may be able to combat some of it through education,
through productive relationships with gentile religious and
political leaders. There may be much we can do to stem the tide.
But when those efforts fail, when seemingly intelligent people
like CEOs of massive corporations or students at UCLA prove
themselves to be anti-Semites, we need to remind the world
that not for naught is the Jewish people one of the
very best organized communities in the world. For centuries,
Jews have paid the price for anti-Semitism. The time has
come for the anti-Semites to start paying the price.
It is now time for anti-Semites to start paying the price…
As I explained yesterday, while I have lamented the disappearance of many Jewish families from active Jewish communal life, I understood much of their rationale:
- Public schools, with their academic and extra-curricular demands require total loyalty from parents and students who face stiff competition for entrance into top universities.
- From a spiritual, cultural and social perspective, the synagogue and formal Jewish community has not sufficiently addressed the needs of younger generations.
Yet, when college campuses from Hunter and Brooklyn College to Brandeis, Oberlin and UCLA display visible signs of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel passion, it is time for us parents to wake up from our slumber. If the Joy Karegas of our world are to be silenced, we parents need to establish a new paradigm:
To better equip ourselves and our students with the tools to unabashedly convey Jewish and Israel pride on campus and for the rest of their lives.
The post-Bar and Bat Mitzvah silence of our students and their families is deafening. It is our responsibility to help reverse the contemporary pattern of Jewish indifference and Jewish silence.
As a parent who put three daughters through college and graduate school, I understand the demands on our time and the pressures on our students. If however, we are to address the rise of campus anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel alone, we will need to make some sacrifice to better equip our students for what they now or will soon eye witness in their college dorms and in their encounters on campus.
We need to renew affiliations with the Jewish community and to help send a message to our students that academic status and athletic or cultural skills alone are insufficient for living a fulfilling life.
The issues I raise today are existential matters, which will not disappear because we dismiss them as tangential to our lives. And perhaps instead of the regular family school vacations to other parts of the world, we select Israel as core requirement for our families; and perhaps Birthright participation in the future.
Remember that each time we hesitate-out of fear-to select Israel as a vacation destination, Hamas and Hezbollah achieve a victory.
Finally, when you make your college tours, insist upon universities with an active Jewish program; and create your own incentives for encouraging our students to enjoy active Jewish campus lives.
For the rest of us: On this Rosh HaShanah we have opportunity to transform our Avinu Malkenu prayer from vision to fulfillment.
Those of us with computers: Learn the ways of Facebook and social media so that can voice your opinion to counter the hostility toward Israel and Am Yisrael which jump out from the screen.
No longer be reluctant to share intelligent discussions with your children and grandchildren about the existential crisis confronting the Jewish people. Do so instructively and not by berating or lecturing without substance.
Take the time to learn more about BDS and about the arguments put forth in defense of Israel.
For high school graduation of your grandchildren include a four year membership to Hillel or another Jewish campus organization and take steps to insure the best possible opportunity for them to participate.
Subscribe to Israel and Jewish publications to gain different perspectives about Israel and the Jewish world; and base your opinions on intelligent thought and not impulsive reactions.
We are fighting a war for which the entire Jewish community needs to be mobilized. It is time for the anti-Semites to start paying the price…
The Haftorah today portrays a despondent Rachel, lamenting the exile of her children, the people of Israel. A Midrash teaches that when Rachel witnessed the conquering and exile of Israel, she pleaded assertively before God: She spoke about her compassion for elder sister Leah; and how she subsequently honored her father’s insistence that Jacob marry Leah first.
If Rachel could control her urges and enable Leah to take her (Rachel’s) rightful place, then how could God allow Israel’s enemies to do with Israel as they pleased?
At that moment God showed mercy toward Rachel and assured her: For your sake, Rachel, I shall return Israel to their place, for there is a reward for your labor and there is hope for your future.
Because Rachel acted in such an extraordinary manner, both in terms of helping her sister and in praying for the people Israel, God’s compassion was aroused and God answered her prayer.
I believe Rachel is weeping again; and we need to interpret the Haftorah in light of the present conditions throughout the Jewish and general world.
Rachel weeps not over exile.
Israel exists and will continue to exist and to thrive in spite of Iran, the UN Human Rights Council and the BDS.
Rachel weeps for the Jewish Diaspora, which remains virtually silent in terms of Jewish identity and silent in terms of any spiritual support for the State of Israel.
Rachel weeps because each year, fewer Jews count themselves among Am Yisrael.
Rachel weeps because the hopes about an exalted Jewish people are rapidly fading.
Rachel weeps because of the alarming anti-Semitism on the college campus.
Rachel weeps not because of the anti-Semitism which has lingered throughout history; but due to the Jewish muteness in responding to anti-Semitism today.
Rachel will be comforted only if we reverse the negative trends and make all anti-Semites pay the price.
Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, has been doing his part to improve Israel’s image in the UN. He was successful to the point of being elected the first Israeli to become chairperson of a standing committee at the General Assembly. Last Passover, on the floor of the UN, he hosted a Friday night Seder. About forty ambassadors, senior UN officials and even a European minister participated. The guests learned how the Israelites were enslaved and then liberated; they learned about the connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel. They ate matzah, read the Haggadah and sang Dayenu. When Danon spoke to a group of rabbis in New York City he urged us not to give up; but to fight on in defense of both Israel and the Jewish people.
The fight is an imposing one and the results still uncertain.
Yet, we have had enough of BDS, of singling out Israel and the Jewish people, of anti-Semitic vitriol expressed from the outside and from within.
It is time for all of us to bond together as a Jewish community; to renew our affiliations and to fight on behalf of Jewish survival in Israel and in the United States.
It is time for the Joy Karegas of the world to get their due; and for our young students on campus to no longer be afraid.
May this year be a year of renewal and exaltation for the entire Jewish people.
May this be the year in which through our activism we start making anti-Semites pay the price.
May this be a year for our voices to be firm and strong; with no one capable of making us afraid…