Joy Karega and Anti-Semitism on the Left

Israeli Jews are not only responsible for 9/11, but also for the Charlie Hebdo attacks and the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine, according to Oberlin College Professor Joy Karega’s Facebook page. Her numerous posts criticizing not just Israel and its policies, but also Israeli Jews as a faction, and even the entire Jewish people, have attracted a great deal of attention in recent days.

In response, Oberlin’s President Marvin Krislov – himself a Jew – released a statement defending academic freedom and Karega. He said, “I believe, as the American Association of University Professors says, that academic freedom is ‘the indispensable quality of institutions of higher education’ because it encourages free inquiry, promotes the expansion of knowledge, and creates an environment in which learning and research can flourish.”

Of course, academic freedom has limits, and student activists have long considered outright bigotry and hate speech to lie far beyond them. Oberlin is famous for being the first American college or university to admit women and black students, and yet by tolerating hate by professors, it is tarnishing its reputation. Oberlin’s Board of Trustees came out stronger against Karega yesterday, calling her postings “anti-Semitic and abhorrent.”

But the central issue here is not Oberlin, because sentiments like Karega’s are by no means unique to Oberlin. Her anti-Semitism didn’t even originate at Oberlin, but instead came to her from activist Left. The Left – especially the anti-Zionist Left – has a problem with anti-Semitism. Adherents to leftist ideologies often either don’t see anti-Semitism as a problem or even engage in it themselves.

During the 2014 invasion of Gaza, anti-Zionist protestors in France attempted to storm and vandalize synagogues and chanted, among other slogans, “Hitler was right.” More recently, Alex Chalmers, Jewish co-chair of the Oxford University Labour Club resigned over anti-Semitism amongst the club’s members. A Jewish student at UCLA was barred from a position on the student council’s Judicial Board over concerns that she wouldn’t be able to “maintain an unbiased view.”

This is, of course, not to say that anti-Zionism can at all be equated with anti-Semitism. As Peter Beinart writes for Haaretz:

Conceptually, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are clearly distinct. Virtually all Palestinians are anti-Zionists. After all, Zionism is a Jewish national liberation movement that, while a great blessing for the Jewish people, has caused Palestinians great suffering. But that doesn’t make all Palestinians anti-Semites.

Take the case of Salim Joubran, a Palestinian citizen of Israel who serves on its Supreme Court. Joubran is clearly not an anti-Semite. To the contrary, many Israeli Jews rightfully consider his service on the court a source of pride. But Joubran refuses to sing “Hatikva,” the great Zionist ode, and, like many prominent Palestinian Israelis, would probably prefer that Israel become a country that does not privilege Jews in its policies or public symbols. In other words, he’s an anti-Zionist without being an anti-Semite.

Anti-Zionism can and does thrive on the Left without the slightest hint of associated anti-Semitism. And yet, far too often, the two are deeply intertwined. For the most part, the Left has been content to let this state of affairs continue, and has not actively sought to purge anti-Semitism from the deeply-held and justifiable beliefs of anti-Zionists. Joy Karega’s conspiratorial rantings – which also theorized that Mossad created ISIS and that the Jews “own your news, the media, your oil, and your government” – are the direct product of this tolerance of hate.

In the absence of a critique of bigotry, hatred will only grow worse. As President Krislov failed to adequately condemn Karega’s remarks, an anonymous email was sent out yesterday morning to a multitude of Oberlin students congratulating him: “Good Work to Oberlin College, to Professor Joy Karega & President Marvin Krislov !!” it reads, before continuing to assert that “The state of Israel, Zionist Jews are pure evil. They did 9/11.”

A screenshot of the anonymous email sent out to Oberlin students on Sunday.

Of course, this sort of anonymous hatred is deeply disturbing, especially when it promotes age-old anti-Semitic lies.

As the Left fails to adequately condemn both Karega and the numerous other vile anti-Semites among its ranks, these incidents are bound to increase in frequency. Few of the prominent anti-Zionist or Leftist publications, organizations and figures have spoken out against Karega – Mondoweiss, Electronic Intifada, +972, The Nation and even Jewish Voice for Peace have all failed to criticize or even address her. This is not an isolated case either – rarely do these groups tackle anti-Semitism in any form.

The Left must stand up to anti-Semitism, as it does to racism, sexism, Islamophobia, homophobia, capitalism, colonialism and the multitude of other harmful ideologies that contravene fundamental principles of equality and liberty. We must insist that there is a difference between the state of Israel and its people, and between Israelis and Jews. We must condemn associations between Jewishness and Nazism – such comparisons are disingenuous at best, and deeply harmful at worst. We must recognize that Jews are a multiethnic and multiracial people, that there are Arab and even Palestinian Jews – to attack the Jews is thus to attack them as well. We must drop the lasting and offensive stereotype of Jews controlling the world. Most importantly, we must see that anti-Semitism still thrives as well as it ever has, and fiercely oppose it wherever it is to be found – even in the writings and activism of our leaders and allies.