The controversy about Oberlin professor Joy Karega

The controversy about Oberlin professor Joy Karega

The Tower, a site focused on news and commentary about Israel and the Middle East, recently featured a post revealing that Joy Karega, an assistant professor of Rhetoric and Composition at Oberlin College, “has written and shared a series of Facebook posts claiming that Jews or Israelis control much of the world and are responsible for the 9/11 and Charlie Hebdo attacks and the rise of ISIS.” Karega’s promotion of various conspiracy theories was documented in screen shots, and it was noted that “[t]he revelations about Prof. Karega’s Facebook posts come amid growing concern that Jewish students at Oberlin are facing a rising wave of anti-Semitism. This January, the frequency of anti-Semitic events on campus spurred 225 alumni and students to form Oberlin Alumni and Students Against Anti-Semitism.”

follow-up post noted that the revelations about Karega’s preposterous conspiracy theories “have prompted a tepid response from the school.” According to The Tower, this response “disassociated Oberlin from Karega’s postings” but “failed to address the offensiveness of her conspiracies.” The post also cites Harvard Law School Professor Emeritus Alan Dershowitz who commented to The Tower: “If Karega had expressed comparably bigoted views about Blacks, Muslims or gays, the President of Oberlin would not have posted the boilerplate he posted. He would have condemned those views, even if he defended her right to express them.”

As an additional relevant commentary, The Tower cited a recent post by David Bernstein at the Washington Post who highlighted the account of an Oberlin alumna “who asserted that multiple progressive students at the college dismissed the Holocaust as ‘white-on-white crime.’” Bernstein argued that this and other incidents described by the alumna, which ranged “from gross insensitivity to blatant anti-Semitism,” suggest that “those who are the most acutely sensitive to and active against other forms of racism, ignore anti-Semitism, belittle it and, in some cases participate in it.”

JTA published a report on the controversy under the title “Oberlin prez ‘respects’ free speech of faculty member behind anti-Semitic Facebook post;” the same JTA report was published by the Israeli Daily Ha’aretz under the headline “Oberlin Professor’s anti-Semitic Posts Are ‘Personal Views,’ Says College;” while the Forward carried it under the title “Oberlin President Defends Free Speech of Professor in Anti-Semitic Facebook Rant.” It is noteworthy that both the original JTA title and the Forward title misleadingly suggest that there was only one incident.

The JTA report outlines the controversy about Karega’s posting and the various concerns about antisemitism at Oberlin, noting that “Karega’s social media posts drew attention after she was listed as co-sponsor of an event at Oberlin scheduled for March 2 in which Robin Kelley, a history professor at UCLA, is due to deliver a lecture entitled, ‘Fighting Apartheid Since 1948: Key Moments in Palestinian and Black Solidarity’.” The JTA report also included a reaction by Karega, who reportedly “posted on Facebook Friday: ‘Robin Kelley IS still coming to Oberlin next week, despite efforts by some to prevent it. Trust, when I come up out of my Unbothered state of being, I’ll have a lot to say (analysis, no doubt) about the kinds of intimidation and silencing tactics that are rhetorically enacted in digital spaces, through email, through telephone communication, and propagandized editorial articles, masquerading as ‘journalism,’ and how common it is for Black women, who are early in their career on the tenure track as part of the professoriate, to be prime targets for these kinds of activities and practices.’”

In a commentary published at the Times of Israel, Richard L. Cravatts, president of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, analyzed Karega’s postings in the context of Richard Hofstadter’s famous essay on “the paranoid style” of politics. After outlining the various conspiracy theories Karega promoted, Cravatts argued that “this type of intellectual incoherence emanating from academia” was particularly troubling because, “unlike its intellectually flabby predecessors from right-wing hate groups or left wing cranks, this political analysis comes complete with academic respectability of Oberlin.”