Oberlin College holds a position at or near the apex of a universe populated by the leftist and the further leftist American colleges and universities. But Jewish students are finding that Oberlin’s liberalism does not extend to any discussion that is not unequivocally scathing about the Jewish State.
In a place where every people’s right to self-determination is revered as an ideological imperative, that same right for the Jewish people is deemed not only unworthy, but as evidence of racism itself.
This month Oberlin reappeared center stage largely for a list of demands issued by its Black Student Union, a list which is notorious for several reasons. It is: very long (14 pages), wide-ranging (hiring, firing, health, prisoners given free tuition, the list goes on) and unequivocal.
Oberlin BSU’s demands are not requests, they are non-negotiable and backed by the force of threat: “these are not polite requests, but concrete and unmalleable [sic] demands. Failure to meet them will result in a full and forceful response from the community you fail to support.”
The Demand Document – which was unsigned – was sent to Oberlin President Marvin Krislov earlier this month. On Wednesday, Jan. 20, Krislov responded with an invitation to dialogue, something already scorned in the initial move.
This Oberlin exchange arose in the context of the 2015 Revolution on American Universities. That RAU began in the fall semester, initially triggered by the Ferguson and Baltimore riots, followed by the melee at Missou, and the shrieking girl outburst at Yale. Princeton followed and eventually Oberlin joined in, with the biggest and most brazen set of demands of all.
But something else is happening at Oberlin, something that is the focus of this article. This issue was raised in the demand document. Tucked away on page 14, amidst disparate essentials, the students demanded: “Immediate divestment from Israel who [sic] has exploited many African descendant peoples seeking refuge. Furthermore, because the oppressive and violent acts towards Palestinians mirrors the anti-Blackness currently in the United States.”
This demand for an official declaration by Oberlin College denouncing the State of Israel is only the most explicit display of a campus-wide hostility to Zionism, and more broadly to Jewish religious observance, at least when it has any connection at all to Zionism or the Jewish state (which might be a bit of a problem for someone reciting, say, the entire Amidah prayer at any time of day.)
One current Oberlin student put it this way to the JewishPress.com: “at Oberlin, People of Color (POC) are on the ‘good side of the ledger,’ and they are opposed to Zionists, who are categorized as “pro-racist and harmful towards POC.”
Jewish Oberlin students and alumni have begun to speak out, albeit quietly and cautiously, because it has now become the reality for many of them that despite the many leftist, “liberal” positions shared by most students across the Oberlin spectrum, any identification with the Jewish State as even an aspect of one’s Judaism is verboten.
As a result, there is now underway a painstaking effort to create a voice that opposes what is now being described as anti-Semitism at Oberlin. That new, wavering, quavering voice is seeking to counter a pervasive atmosphere on campus that reached its stride when the Oberlin student senate voted in 2013 to approve a BDS (Boycott of, Divestment from and Sanctions against Israel) resolution, and has been going strong ever since.
Dr. Melissa Landa, Oberlin class of 1986, is attempting to do the proverbial herding of cats by creating a coalition of current students and alumni who can speak with a single voice, and have that voice attempt to draw attention to the unacceptable wave of blatant hostility towards anyone who identifies with the Jewish State. So far, Landa has helped to form a group more than 200 strong, “Oberlin Students and Alumni Against Anti-Semitism.” They wrote, signed and delivered a letter to the Oberlin administration, staff and faculty. Landa says she is meeting with Oberlin president Marvin Krislov on Tuesday, Jan. 26.Lori Lowenthal Marcus