Prof’s anti-Israel comments spark controversy

By Evan Goodenow -

Joy Karega

Joy Karega

A series of anti-Israel Facebook posts, including praise for a video claiming the country was behind the 9/11 attacks, have led to widespread criticism of an Oberlin College educator.

Joy Karega, assisant professor of rhetoric and composition, was described as “brilliant” and “a genius” by guest speaker and UCLA professor Robin Kelley in a March 1 talk at the Nancy Schrom Dye Lecture Hall.

Some 300 people applauded Karega, now spotlighted after The Tower, a pro-Israel website, captured screenshots of inflamatory social media posts that she has since removed.

In one post, Karega said the Mossad, Israel’s version of the CIA, “orchestrated” the January 2015 massacre at Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper in Paris that frequently ridiculed Muslims. Karega posted that it was “obvious” Israel was responsible for the October downing of a Malayasian airliner over Ukraine.

She also posted that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria was not an Islamic terrorist group. “It’s a CIA and Mossad operation and there’s been too much information out here for the general public not to know this,” Karega wrote.

Karega wouldn’t comment to the News-Tribune.

However, she said March 3 on Facebook that she was “overwhelmed with gratitude” for the support from Kelley and others. “While I continue to receive emails, messages, etc. that are filled with slurs (racial, misogynist, and classist), harassment, and threats, this escalation in support has been encouraging,” Karega said.

A Feb. 26 statement by the college regarding Karega said it respects the right of alumni, faculty, students, and staff to express their personal views. “Acknowledgement of this right does not signal institutional support for, or endorsement of, any specific position,” said the statement on the college’s website.

Like the college, Anita Gray, a spokeswoman for the Anti-Defamation League’s Cleveland regional office, said her group supports Karega’s First Amendment right to free speech.

Gray said there is great diversity of opinions about Israel within Israel and the U.S. and criticism of Israel is not necessarily anti-Semitic.

Nonetheless, Gray said Karega’s comments perpetuate historic anti-Semitic conspriracy theories about all-powerful Jews secretly controlling events. “They’re absurd. They’re ridiculous and they’re viruently anti-Semitic,” she said.

Gray said it was up to the college whether Karega — hired in 2014 — should be disciplined for her remarks. Decisions on whether professors receive tenure usually aren’t made until their sixth year at the school, said college spokesman Scott Wargo.

In a statement Saturday, Clyde McGregor, president of the college board of trustees, called Karega’s postings “anti-Semetic and abhorrent” and said they raise “grave issues” that must be considered by the board “expeditiously.”

In consultation with college president Marvin Krislov, McGregor asked the administration and faculty to challenge any justification for the postings and report back to the board.

“From its founding, Oberlin College has stood for inclusion, respect, and tolerance,” McGregor said. “We still do.”

While some have called for Karega’s firing, she is supported by Students for a Free Palestine, some of whose members turned out last Tuesday.

The group has been unsuccessfully lobbying the college to divest from corporations doing business with Israel. The push is part of Boycott Divestments and Sanctions, a national movement to economically punish Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians.

The movement is in response to accusations of collective punishment and disproportionate use of force in Gaza and the West Bank — both banned by the Geneva Conventions — in response to Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation. Critics cite Operation Protective Edge, the 2014 bombing and invasion of Gaza by Israel in response to Palestinian rocket attacks.

According to the United Nations, 2,131 Palestinians, including 1,473 civilians, 501 of them children, were killed in the attacks, which included the bombing of hospitals and schools. Seventy-one Israelis, 66 of them soldiers, were killed.

Asked whether Karega’s comments are a distraction from the BDS movement and criticism of Israel’s military tactics, Wyatt Kroopf, a member of Students for a Free Palestine, wouldn’t comment.

Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or on Twitter @GoodenowNews.

Joy Karega Karega

By Evan Goodenow