Cleveland Jewish News helps Oberlin whitewash its antisemitism problem

An article in the Cleveland Jewish News, bearing the byline of reporter Becky Raspe, reads as though it was written by Oberlin College’s public relations department, and whitewashes the long-standing antisemitism problem at Oberlin that has been documented, among other places, on CAMERA’s In Focus blog

College President Carmen Twillie Ambar has long sought to hide the school’s problem behind its Jewish Studies program and kosher dining facilities, and the CJN article promotes that talking point. (“Oberlin College celebrates 50 years of Jewish studies program,” October 19, 2022.) But at Oberlin, the Jewish Studies department appears to be part of the problem, not part of the solution.

In May of last year, Oberlin Jewish Studies Chair Shari Rabin signed onto a letter that accused Israel of “Jewish supremacy,” a slur that professor Gil Troy has called “straight out of the Nazi handbook.” The letter describes modern-day Israel as featuring “unjust, enduring, and unsustainable systems of Jewish supremacy, ethnonational segregation, discrimination, and violence against Palestinians that have been forcefully condemned, including by Jews, Israeli citizens, and Israeli human rights groups such as B’Tselem.” What B’Tselem and the signatories of this letter attempt to cast as “Jewish supremacy” is in fact simply Jewish national self-determination, a national right to which Jews are no less entitled than any other group. Troy wrote in Newsweek,

Jew-haters’ obsession about Jewish “power,” as Jews endured centuries of powerlessness and persecution, proves that Jew-hatred, the world’s oldest hatred, is also the most plastic hatred—artificial, fungible and sometimes lethal. Jews have been persecuted for being rich and poor, Marxist and capitalist, fitting in too much and standing out too much. Nazis justified their mass murder of Jews by escalating the canard about Jews controlling the world into a struggle against “Jewish supremacy.”

And as CAMERA has pointed out before, the language of “Jewish supremacy” also recalls the title of KKK leader David Duke’s 2002 book entitled, “Jewish Supremacism: My Awakening on the Jewish Question.”

The May 2021 letter also supports the antisemitic BDS movement: “we assert our commitment to upholding student and faculty free speech and academic freedom. This includes our colleagues’ right, if they choose to do so, to respond to ongoing events through non-violent protest, including in the form of boycott or other organized economic pressure on Israel.” The letter was written, of course, in midst of an onslaught of over 4,000 Hamas rockets directed at civilians in Israel.

Banner that was hung in Oberlin’s main square on Rosh Hashana of 2014

Yet the Cleveland Jewish News only quotes Rabin enthusiastically and uncritically. Of the 50th anniversary of Jewish studies at Oberlin, Rabin is quoted saying, “it’s an exciting milestone and we’re taking this as an opportunity to reflect …. There have been hurdles along the way, but the interest and determination to make Oberlin a place for Jewish studies and Jewish life has been ongoing throughout the years, and really inspiring to see.” Later in the article Rabin says, “Oberlin is a great place for Jewish studies and students.”

But a second Jewish Studies professor, Sheera Talpaz, also signed the May, 2021 letter. Talpaz’s biography on Oberlin’s website says that “her future work focuses on the figure of the poet-activist in Palestine/Israel.” And a third professor (out of four) in the Jewish Studies Department, Matthew Berkman, who specializes in “the Israel-Palestine conflict,” earlier this month facilitated the on-campus screening of a pro-BDS film. (One would think college professors would be aware that there is no such sovereign entity as Palestine.)

Jewish parents considering sending their children to Oberlin (at a cost of around $80,000 per year, including room and board) would likely be interested to know that if those students take classes in Jewish studies, they will be taught by people who endorse the fallacy of Jewish supremacy, promote the boycott of Israel, and believe there is a country called Palestine. Yet the Cleveland Jewish News tells them none of this.

Far from being an antidote to Oberlin College’s antisemitism problem, the school’s Jewish Studies department has become a promoter of it. So why does Cleveland Jewish News cover for them?

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