We have another case of a professor who was put under scrutiny for her postings on social media. Joy Karega, an assistant professor of “rhetoric and composition” at Oberlin College posted bizarre claims on Facebook blaming Jews and Israel for 9/11 as well as ISIS. The college however has decided that such postings are protected and it is correct in doing so. However, once again, there is a concern over how colleges treat such controversies depending on the views and conclusions of the academics or students.
Karega reportedly posted controversial statements after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, including a picture showing an Islamic State terrorist with a Star of David tattoo pulling off a mask, exposing the face of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. She added “This ain’t even hard. They unleashed Mossad on France and it’s clear why.” She explained that the massacre was part of a conspiracy to stop French support for Palestinians. She also posted a statement that Islamic State is not Islamic, but rather “a CIA and Mossad operation” and even frustration that “there’s too much information out here for the general public not to know this.”
Then there is her view that “Israeli and Zionist Jews” orchestrated the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.
As wacky and weird these comments may be, they were made by an academic outside of their classes and express her political and historical viewpoint. Nevertheless, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, director of the Shurat HaDin—Israel Law Center has called the speech ‘the worst kind of anti-Semitic rhetoric” and insisted that “it is not acceptable for the dean to hide behind academic freedom and claim this is freedom of speech.” She added that Karega “needs to be thrown off campus immediately.”
It is in fact free speech and there are academic protections for unpopular speech. The college is right. However, there is a growing concern over the test being applied to academics based on the content of such speech. The controversy raises again the question of a double standard in controversies at the University of California and Boston University, where there have been criticism of a double standard, even in the face of criminal conduct. Recently, we discussed a case at the University of London involving Bahar Mustafa. We recently saw a student suspended for a joke on Yik Yak that was denounced as racist. Another student was fired for criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement.
Oberlin is facing increasing criticism from Jewish groups and students who have objected to the advocacy on campus by the movement to Boycott, Divest from, and Sanction Israel (BDS). Various students organizations support the BDS and the Jewish students have objected that the movement “demonizes the Jewish state” and creates a threatening and unwelcoming environment for them. Such objections miss the point of educational institutions as forums for a wide array of different views and belief systems. Just as the BDS advocates should be free speach, so too are Jewish groups opposing the BDS. What is describes as a “toxic climate” is actually a free speech climate where people are free to speak their minds and answer the opposing views of others.
“I am a practicing Jew, grandson of an Orthodox rabbi. Members of our family were murdered in the Holocaust. As someone who has studied history, I cannot comprehend how any person could or would question its existence, its horrors and the evil which caused it. I feel the same way about anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Regardless of the reason for spreading these materials, they cause pain for many people — members of our community and beyond. . . . Cultivating academic freedom can be difficult and at times painful for any college community. The principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech are not just principles to which we turn to face these challenges, but also the very practices that ensure we can develop meaningful responses to prejudice . . .
This freedom enables Oberlin’s faculty and students to think deeply about and to engage in frank, open discussion of ideas that some may find deeply offensive. Those discussions — in classrooms, residence halls, libraries, and across our campus and town — take place every day here. They are a vital part of the important work of liberal arts education at Oberlin and in our country.”
As for Karega, she says that the criticism of her has given her material for a new book and is simply part of the “antisemitism call-out culture.” She has further suggested that the criticism is racist”
“… I can generate articles for days on what I can describe as “antisemitism call-out culture” and some of its accompanying practices. I don’t have to tell some of you that these recent activities in my own professional life have handed me a LARGE body of data (emails, voicemail messages, tweets, Facebook inbox messages, etc.) that will shed light on and provide insight into how and to what extent anti-Blackness rhetorics show up in antisemitic call-out culture and practices.”
Once again, Karega’s views are not the issue, but rather her right to hold and speak opposing views. However, the same standard should be applied to professors and students being punished for their views under ill-defined “hate speech” rules.