In recent years, one of the few unifying Israel-related experiences on the North American left has been that of sincere critics of Israeli policies being unfairly and often vociferously attacked as anti-Semitic.
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What happens, though, when a leftist critic of Israel actually does veer into vile, high-octane, Klan-grade anti-Semitism?
Is the anti-Israel hard left prepared to denounce the real thing – authentic Jew-hatred from a progressive?
The test case is before us. It comes from Oberlin, the elite liberal arts college in Ohio, seen as the first institution of higher learning in America to have admitted female and black students as a matter of course in addition to white males.
Late last year, Dr. Joy Karega, a professor of Rhetoric and Composition at Oberlin, posted a graphic on Facebook showing banker Jacob Rothschild. A text framing Rothschild's likeness, his abundant nose prominent, read:
“Hello there, my name is Jacob Rothschild. My family is worth 500 trillion dollars. We own nearly every central bank in the world. We financed both sides of every war since Napoleon. We own your news, the media, your oil and your government.”
The report quoted her as having last year posted and endorsed a
speech by Louis Farrakhan in which the Nation of Islam leader indicated that Jews were behind the 2001 World Trade Center terrorism. Farrakhan states that "it is now becoming apparent that there were many Zionist and Israeli Jews in key roles in the 9/11 attack."
According to The Tower account, in another post, Dr. Karega wrote that “the same people behind the massacre in Gaza” were guilty of downing Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine in July, 2014, a crash in which all 283 passengers and 15 crew members were killed.
“With this false flag," she was quoted as posting, "the Rothschild-led banksters, exposed and hated and out of economic options to stave off the coming global deflationary depression, are implementing the World War III option."
Responding to the posts, Oberlin College President Marvin Krislov, who is Jewish, caused a further stir with a statement that bent over backwards to refrain from expressing an opinion on the content of Dr. Karega's charges.
The college “respects the right of its faculty, students, staff and alumni to express their personal views," he said, adding that “The statements posted on social media by Dr. Joy Karega, assistant professor of rhetoric and composition, are hers alone and do not represent the views of Oberlin College."
On Tuesday, Pres. Krislov issued a stronger statement, published on the university's internal campus website. The statement reiterated Oberlin's commitment to free speech, but made pointed reference to the anti-Semitic nature of the posts.
"The screenshots affected me on a very personal level," he wrote. "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."
A number of prominent critics of Israel who, while strongly leftist, are not members of the overtly anti-Israel camp, have condemned Dr. Karega for, in the words of columnist Larry Derfner, "straight-up anti-Semitism of the purest kind."
Most agreed that Oberlin, while defending free speech, should have denounced Dr. Karega's remarks. "Anti-Semitism is not free speech – it is illegitimate and must be condemned," said veteran peace activist Gershon Baskin, who called the remarks "disgraceful."
"Any tweet or Facebook post that talks about Rothschild and Jewish bankers, or a world-wide Jewish conspiracy, is bona fide anti-Semitic," said Professor Charles Manekin of the University of Maryland.
However, the hard left websites Mondoweiss and Electronic Intifada, the exponent platforms for anti-Israel sentiment and hair-trigger responses to moral infractions by Israel, were conspicuously silent over the Oberlin professor's remarks.
Mondoweiss and Electronic Intifada, it should be noted, are sites in a class by themselves. A class in which it has become a matter of meme, that if you are strongly leftist on most issues, but can be seen to be pro-Israel in any way shape or form, even, or especially, if you are a two-state, pro-democracy progressive, you run the risk of being labeled, and therefore thoroughly discounted and dismissed, as PEP - Progressive Except (for) Palestine.
Perhaps it's time we added one new designation, for those self-elected arbiters of public morals, the pure of anti-Israelism, who cannot bring themselves to condemn pure Jew-hate out of hand:
PEAS - Progressive Except For Anti-Semitism.