Oberlin College president to discuss campus anti-Semitism with alumni

Former students say BDS movement has created an anti-Jewish climate at the Ohio liberal arts school

A building on the Oberlin College campus, Oberlin, Ohio. (Wikimedia Commons)
A building on the Oberlin College campus, Oberlin, Ohio. (Wikimedia Commons)

The president of Oberlin College will speak with members of an alumni group that has raised concerns about the anti-Semitic climate on campus.

Marvin Krislov, who is Jewish, will conduct a phone conversation with former students of the Ohio liberal arts college on Friday.

The phone call comes several weeks after 200 alumni wrote to the college administration to voice concern about the actions of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS, at Oberlin and a school culture they believe tolerates anti-Semitism.

“Several student organizations at Oberlin have assumed the role as the mouthpiece of the BDS movement, which claims to be a defender of Palestinian rights, but whose inflammatory language falsely portraying Israel as an illegitimate, colonialist and murderous regime demonstrates that its primary goal is to demonize the Jewish state,” read the letter dated January 3.

Oberlin President Marvin Krislov (photo: Oberlin website)
Oberlin President Marvin Krislov (photo: Oberlin website)

“Because participation in these groups requires denouncing Israel, the message to Jewish students can be summed up as follows: Either forfeit your allegiance to Israel and join us, or we will brand you as an enemy of justice and complicit in the oppression of the Palestinian people.”

The letter mentioned several incidents at the school, including the expulsion of the Kosher Halal co-op from the Oberlin Student Cooperation Association and a protest against Israel on Rosh Hashanah that Jewish students had to pass through on their way to holiday services.

An anti-Israel demonstration at the University of Texas. (photo credit: CC-BY monad68, Flickr)
An anti-Israel demonstration at the University of Texas. (photo credit: CC-BY monad68, Flickr)

Oberlin has a reputation as a particularly liberal and activist college, and in the wake of the January 3 letter, Jewish alumni have taken to Facebook to share examples of activities they witnessed that veered toward anti-Semitism.

“The multiple times the Holocaust was referred to as ‘white on white crime’ by my POC peers and hip white Jewish peers,” Oberlin alumnus Isabel Sherrell wrote in a January 11 Facebook post listing numerous experiences that made her uncomfortable as a student.

The group Oberlin Students for a Free Palestine responded to the alumni letter with a letter of its own rejecting the charges of anti-Semitism and vowing to continue its protest of Israel.

“We see these accusations as a way to limit the free speech of students, silence political activism, and intimidate pro-Palestinian activists,” the group wrote. “We believe that solidarity with an oppressed people and demands to defend their human rights do not and will never constitute anti-Semitism. It is our conviction of self-determination and autonomy that will continue to drive us, no matter how many attempt to malign us, to call for a free Palestine.”

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