Photo Credit: Facebook, Ma'ayan Plaut '10
Oberlin College

Another dirty not-so-secret secret at Oberlin is that lots of the members of the SFP are Jewish themselves.

Andrew Patinkin, class of 2019, weighed in on the attitude of many Jewish Oberlin students. Patinkin explained that “many Oberlin students say that Israel is an oppressive state, and they “repeat a lot of misinformation and falsehoods in the name of ‘combating oppression.’  Unfortunately, this attitude towards Israel is so pervasive that even some Jewish students have taken to decrying Israel because it makes you a ‘better ally’ to a marginalized group, i.e. the Palestinians.”

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Patinkin continued: “In the eyes of these students, if you do not actively denounce Israel and it’s actions, you are a lesser ally and ‘fail’ to understand the ways that oppression works, thereby making you a horrible person.”

If things are so bad at Oberlin, why don’t Jewish students leave?

Some do.

In the last few years two students transferred from Oberlin to the University of Pennsylvania. Before she left, Mira Taichman penned a column for the Oberlin Review.

Taichman, who is Israeli, wrote that “Zionism is stigmatized at Oberlin. Anti-Israel and anti-Zionism is not only accepted; it is expected.”

“I quickly learned that at Oberlin,” Taichman wrote, “love for my own nation was not something I could freely express. I hesitate to disclose this part of my identity to members of our community, not because I am concerned they will disagree with me, but because I know from experience that, simply upon hearing the words, ‘I am a Zionist,’ they will shut out my voice entirely.”

Taichman stayed only one school year at Oberlin.

Anya Friedman Hutter also left Oberlin for Penn. Hutter, like one of the current students who spoke with the JewishPress.com, was raised as a member of the leftist, Labor Zionist Habonim Dror movement. But Hutter wrote in an op-ed that ran in the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, that students at Oberlin were expected to hew to a very specific “liberal checklist.” They were expected to denounce “a plethora of social ills, including capitalism, racism, tracking, transphobia – and Israel.”

Hutter described the atmosphere at Oberlin, when it came to Israel, as toxic, and gave that as one of the reasons why she transferred.

The letter sent to Oberlin administration by the Oberlin Alumni and Students Against Anti-Semitism has limited goals. It wants anti-Semitic incidents to be investigated and documented; it wants there to be a forum for Obies in which they can discuss the impact of those anti-Semitic incidents; and they want there to be a task force to create a plan of action to address the current crisis.

Three simple requests. No demands. We’ll follow what happens.

And what happens matters for campuses other than Oberlin. As the Jewish professional and two of the Oberlin alumni who are university professors explained, the same things are happening at other campuses. It’s just that they are louder and earlier at Oberlin.

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61 COMMENTS

  1. The Jews on campes should run an advertisement in the student newspaper explaining that Moslems are killing People of Color right now in all of the following countries; With links to the on line articles describing the killings and by what group.
    North-Mali (Azawad)
    Somalia
    North Sudan
    Cameroon
    Centeral African Republic of the CongoChad
    Darfur (South Sudan)
    Kenya
    Mali
    Mindanao Island in the Philippians
    Mumbai City in India
    Southern Thailand
    Tanzania
    Nigeria
    Rodizia
    Pakastan
    Turkey
    Indonizia
    Bruni

    It is really a horriable inditement of Oberland college that the sudents, the faculty, and the administration are not smart enough to figure this out on their own.

  2. Why do college administrators accept this kind of anti-American behavior? Why aren't these agitators thrown out? They are there to get an education, to learn how to think – not what to think. Administrators are doing the entire body of students a tremendous disfavor by condoning thuggery and making the campus a dangerous place in which to try to get an education. They are not helping these thugs either, for like any spoiled childe, the more you give in the more is demanded.

  3. As both a Jew and a proud alumnus of the Oberlin Conservatory, I read this article with considerable dismay. Ms. Marcus's portrayal of Oberlin in no way reflects my time there (1997-2001), in which I personally encountered no anti-Semitism and was aware of no anti-Semitic incidents on campus.

    Not content to trust my own memory or my anecdotal experience, I asked several Jewish Obies in a rehearsal today: "Did you ever experience any anti-Semitism at Oberlin? Did you ever hear of any?" No. Of COURSE not. One colleague added, "Oberlin is about half Jewish; we probably would have heard something, wouldn't we?" (A bit of research after the fact reveals that the student population of Oberlin is actually only about 30% Jewish, but his point still stands.)

    Given that we were all graduates from one to two decades ago and Ms. Marcus explicitly describes a shift in attitudes in the last few years, I texted the same questions to several recent Jewish Oberlin alumni, one current student, and one current faculty member. The responses ranged from the simple ("LOLOLOLOL") to the prescient ("Did your mother send you that [censored] article as well?"), but they reflected a unanimous sense that the very premise of the questions—the idea that anti-Semitism existed at Oberlin, let alone that it could be rampant or ubiquitous—was not only wrong, but utterly absurd.

    This is not to suggest that I don't believe fully the accounts of the Jewish students and alumni in the article. Indeed, I deeply sympathize with anyone whose Oberlin years were any less wonderful than my own. But I do believe their stories were anecdotal and that they in no way reflect some sort of institutional bias, let alone the experiences of more than a tiny minority of Jewish Obies past or present.

    Both Ms. Marcus and many of her interviewees seem to be conflating anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism, which certainly exists at Oberlin, though not nearly to the degree that she would have her readers believe. I recall the college newspapers being full of commentary and letters to the editor, in which a small but extremely vocal group of pro-Palestinian students debated regularly with a small but extremely vocal group of pro-Israeli students. Unfortunately, as is often the case on campuses with politically active young people (no matter how bright), there was some vitriol, a great many objective falsehoods were flung in both directions, and the writers were fairly consistently talking past each other.

    A perfunctory glance at more recent editions of the paper reveals much the same. I did note that a letter from Students for a Free Palestine (SPF) strongly CONDEMNED the interruption of "Free Palestine!" during the 2013 convocation as recounted by Ms. Marcus. They pointed out that it "inappropriately conflated Judaism with Zionist politics," adding their desire to distance themselves from incidents that “antagonize and hinder meaningful dialogue.” I personally know nothing about SPF, but its leaders' stated goal of "serving as an educational resource" to teach about the "Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a human rights–based, anti-racist framework" is a far cry from their "clear objective" to "get rid of Israel," as described by an anonymous student in Ms. Marcus's article. One wonders if she at any time even attempted to contact anyone whose responses might have detracted from the validity of her argument.

    Ms. Marcus's biographical blurb claims that she "practiced First Amendment law." It is ironic that her article's title claims "no speech rights" for advocates of Israel, while making no mention of any incident in which a student was censored by the institution, and simultaneously linking to a student's letter to the editor in the school newspaper in which she proudly declared her Zionism. Oberlin's Board of Trustees, in a letter rejecting divestment from Israel, notes that the divestment proposal "elicited strong opposition" and "presents a divisive issue for the community." These are hardly indications of Jewish voices being silenced.

    Jewish students at Oberlin enjoy a Kosher dining co-op and a Hillel Center which sponsors Shabbat services and celebrations of Jewish holidays. There is a Jewish Studies department, a J Street U, and an Oberlin Zionists organization. An excerpt from a recent Facebook post from the Director of Oberlin Jewish Campus Life: "One of the uniquely attractive aspects of Oberlin College is the open, active political debates occurring on campus on many social justice issues, and Israeli-Palestinian relations has always been on ongoing topic of interest to many students. We have seen this discourse to be civil and respectful during the current academic year, and we look forward to continue to forge relationships that encourage and promote peace and tolerance."

    The Hillel Center website has photos of a recent Jewish/Muslim Community Picnic. Perhaps the campus is not as anti-Semitic or bitterly divided as Ms. Marcus's polemic would indicate.

  4. I am baffled that a moderated page which claims to seek "meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner" would allow a statement like this. Yosef Yankelev, your comment has no place in a civilized society, and I'm embarrassed to have attended the same institution as you.

  5. Nowhere in the article is there any indication that anyone at Oberlin—let alone the institution itself—is "stifling first amendment protections."

    To the contrary, by freely allowing both the "excoriation" and the defense of Israel, the College is encouraging open debate on the subject. That is the very essence of first amendment protection.

  6. Kivie Cahn-Lipman …And I am sick and tired of my colleagues, from Daniel Barenboim to more folk-oriented artists, both Jewish and Gentile, that preach bleeding heart, effete pseudo-liberal crap, that has precious little to do with the stark Survival Reality in the Middle East cauldron.

  7. Kivie, thanks for your thoughtful post. My wife's an Obie and attends a lot of their events and reunions so I've met a lot of alumni and they tend to be very interesting people who "make a difference".

    That said, Oberlin is undoubtedly a very liberal, left wing community that does not bear much good will toward Israel. Students for a Free Palestine in particular is a radical group that frequently spews one-sided rants against Israel, spreads the vilest type of lies and distortions about Israel's "occupation" of the West Bank. The way they froth at the mouth over this evil state of Israel, they sound much like a typical group of Muslim Arabs, which I suspect the majority of them are.

    SFP's website, a couple of years out of date, mentions they were to have a table at a LBGT event to explain how "Palestine is a LBGT issue". I would have loved to visit that table and see just how they explain away the stoning to death of gay Arabs, the fact that gays from the West Bank seek asylum inside Israel which is the only country for thousands of miles around that protects gay rights.

    There are definitely isolated anti-Semitic events on campus, as reported by the Oberlin Review. However, you can find examples of idiotic college students on any U.S. campus.

    The description of anti-Zionism in the above article makes it sound as though it's mainly psychological pressure and not acts of physical violence. I would advise pro-Israel students to wear their Star of David T-shirts proudly and damn the torpedoes. Hiding their true colors, refraining from talking about the subject, even transferring to another school… these are acts of cowardice, not high moral principle. I would hope that Obies, regardless of which side they're on, will have the courage of their convictions and speak out, civilly but firmly, for what's right, and not let the forces of darkness win.

  8. Yes, I agree. Any student there can loudly declaim whatever political opionion (s)he likes, and the worst that can result is unpopularity. Oberlin is definitely an extremely liberal institution, but its population is also 30% Jewish. Pro-Israel Obies aren't going to suffer from lack of friends. It's simply not realistic to call the situation "no speech rights" if all Zionist students are facing is peer pressure!

    I'm sure the article's writer, an alum from Harvard Law, is perfectly aware of that, one of many reasons why the entire thing feels like a partisan smear piece. I saw this article yesterday, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2016/01/26/infested-with-zionism-college-activists-create-alarm-over-alleged-anti-semitic-attacks/, which contains much the same information, but its author engaged in thoughtful journalism and presented the same complex issue through a variety of lenses.

  9. That quote is the opinion of a college sophomore. That's not some Oberlin doctrine protecting one-sided speech; it's how a student who has been peer-pressured into not expressing her own opinions feels. I sympathize with that student, I really do, but her *rights* aren't being violated. There's a big big difference. You're claiming "no freedom of speech" as instituted by the college, whereas the article is describing peer pressure as perceived by a 19-year old.

  10. Let's try that; I think it will be a really good exercise for you, and maybe it will make the world just a tiny bit of a better place. (Alternately, it might just be sort of painfully funny.)

    So. I'm a bleeding-heart liberal Oberlin alum. Make an argument relevant to the article above, which will "bring me in." I'll give you a hint: referring to African-Americans as "shwartzer-assed monkeys" and "creatures" isn't a good start.

  11. Let's try that; I think it will be a really good exercise for you, and maybe it will make the world a tiny bit of a better place. (Alternately, it might just be sort of painfully funny.)

    So. I'm a bleeding-heart liberal Oberlin alum. Make an argument relevant to the article above, "appropriately and sensitively," which will "bring me in."

    I'll give you a hint: referring to African-Americans as "shwartzer-assed monkeys" and "creatures" isn't a good start.

  12. Kivie Cahn-Lipman Here's an article about alumni concerns over perceived anti-Semitism. Examples: staging an anti-Israel protest on Rosh Hashanah, which the Jewish students were forced to walk through on their way to services. Expelling the Kosher-Halal coop from a student organization. No, these are not violent acts, but they are cruel and stupid and unbecoming of a great university, don't you think?

    http://www.jta.org/2016/01/27/news-opinion/united-states/oberlin-college-president-to-discuss-campus-anti-semitism-with-alums?utm_source=Newsletter+subscribers&utm_campaign=b26c8591ec-Daily_Briefing_1_28_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_2dce5bc6f8-b26c8591ec-28279485

  13. The 2014 protest was part of an annual international demonstration that took place ongoing from Sept. 23-27, which that year included Rosh Hashanah. (This seems to have been a coincidence, since the following year it took place a month after the High Holidays had ended.) This was exacerbated by a scheduling conflict that led to its start taking place on Erev Rosh Hashanah instead of the previous morning as the protestors had requested.

    I noted the other day when rummaging through the Oberlin Review that the leaders of this student demonstration—though they didn't apologize for the provocative timing—were very careful to distinguish between their anti-Israel sentiments and any hint of anti-Semitism. I wish they had picked a different date, but I'm glad that Oberlin allowed them the right to make their statements publicly, and I'm confident that Zionist Oberlin students would be equally permitted to hold their own rally during Ramadan. (Also, Jewish students weren't forced to walk through the demonstration. The building which held Rosh Hashanah services has many entrances, and the anti-Israel protest took place on only one side of it.)

    I spent a few minutes trying to figure out what exactly happened with the Kosher Co-Op and gave up, but from what I could gather, the issue was strictly financial. Also it is a mixed-faith Kosher/Halal co-op, so its expulsion from the larger organization of can't reasonably be viewed as anti-Semitic, can it? It seems that the co-op will continue, just for the time being not as part of OSCA.

  14. The institution itself has taken no sides, though. (Or to the extent that it has, it is in explicitly *rejecting* the BDS movement!) The fact that many of the students at a school have a certain bias and are engaging in "nasty talk" doesn't seem to me to be any cause for alarm unless the free speech rights of the rest are violated, and I'm simply not seeing any evidence of that. (And the nasty graffiti was part of a hoax in 2013, the work of pranksters who were expelled.)

  15. “Immediate divestment from Israel who [sic] has exploited many African descendant peoples seeking refuge. …"

    The statement Lori Lowenthal Marcus quotes follows a simple rule, i.e., do not condemn those responsible for "African descendant peoples seeking refuge," after all, those responsible for "African descendant peoples" fleeing their homes and and forced to seek refuge are, by today's twisted logic, completely guiltless. Instead, condemn Israel, a nation that has extended aid, AND REFUGE to some, but whose infrastructure, economy and security would be overwhelmed by an influx of millions of impoverished peoples fleeing oppression driven, largely (and perhaps entirely) by the developed world's largely proxy wars for control of African resouces.

    Shifting all blame for all problems of all peoples in all nations onto Israel, in particular, and the Jewish People, in general, is an act of pure cynicism but clearly and consciously calculated to promote anti-Semitism. It relieves the true source(s) of their suffering from all moral responsibilty by shifting it onto a patsy whose region they also covert and pursue with largely proxy wars for control.

    Furthermore, the alleged "anti-Blackness currently in the United States" mirrors nothing with respect to the oppressive and violent Palestinian Arabs other than the Palestinian Arab desire to recruit college students to the cause of radical Islam (and the developed world's proxy wars being waged under the banner of the "oppressed" peoples of radical Islam).

  16. Kivie Cahn-Lipman Why do you assume that Oberlin Zionists wish to hold an "anti-Palestinian rally" ever, let alone during Ramadan? Have you ever heard of such a rally before, anywhere in the U.S.? Jewish (and non-Jewish) supporters of Israel aren't into the same kind of blind prejudice as the anti-Israel factions are. For Zionists, it's about peace and coexistence and, among the more hard core, the right to settle on barren, biblical Israeli land. For anti-Zionists, it's about getting rid of Israel, period. They may claim they merely oppose the settlements, but they also call Israel an "apartheid regime" and all that claptrap which is both inaccurate and a distorted description of real events.

    Imagine an Arab-dominated state in Israel, where the Jews have become a minority or have fled or been killed. Would this be a progressive, tolerant democracy that protects the rights of religious minorities, ethnic groups, LBGT, political opposition, etc.? Or would it more closely resemble the corrupt, criminal states run by the PA and Hamas, where opponents are kneecapped, shoved off buildings, tortured, or stoned? Where gays are beaten to death? Where women are burned to death for the "crime" of being raped? Where political opposition figures are imprisoned or killed? Look at PA and Hamas and there you will see the future of Israel, were Israel to let these people in. Of course they can't let them in, nor can they give back control of the West Bank for fear it would almost immediately become an attack base for ISIS or other extremists, and you would then see world war 3 with hundreds of thousands of casualties. No, the Israelis are doing things right, balancing the interests of the settlers, the oldline Zionists, the Arabs, and the West against those of the enemy Muslim states that surround them. Idiot college students at places like Oberlin really don't even have a seat at the table because of their hostility and stupidity.

  17. Blister Peanuts
    Sorry, I must not have been clear, because you totally misunderstood my point. I certainly wasn't suggesting that Oberlin's Zionist students would do any such thing, nor was I promoting the views of the anti-Israel students, nor was I equating the two sides. I wasn't making any kind of political statement whatsoever. I was merely defending Oberlin—an institution I hold dear—against charges that I see as not only false but nonsensical.

    "NO FREE SPEECH" for Zionist students, screams the article's title. Yet its author can point to no incident in which the College censored anyone. She notes a statistical bias against Israel within the student population (which I recall), and she lists numerous incidents in which this manifested itself as peer pressure or in which students had their feelings hurt (which I don't doubt). But to the extent that Oberlin has taken sides on the issue institutionally, it is in having explicitly *rejected* the BDS movement. Students are free to hold rallies and protests in which they take any political stance whatsoever. Zionist students are just as free to do so as their anti-Israel counterparts. (That was all I was saying above.) Should they choose not to do so, that isn't some flaw of the college.

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