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28 On Being Pro-Israel, and Jewish, at Oberlin College Eliana Kohn Eliana Kohn describes the uncomfortable atmosphere for non-Israel-haters at Oberlin College. Antinormalization and intersectionality have created a hostile orthodoxy where Zionist students must meet only in secret, are excluded from participating in social justice causes, are condemned as white and privileged and for being racist toward persons of color (including Palestinians), are not allowed to have ethnic-themed Shabbat dinners lest they be guilty of cultural appropriation, and so on. Meanwhile, open antisemitism isn’t merely tolerated but actively defended—most notoriously during the spring 2016 discovery of offensive Facebook posts by Oberlin professor Joy Karega. In an inversion of reality, many on campus saw Karega not as a despicable racist but as a victim targeted by racists (i.e., Jews). The endless demonization of Israel on campus, Kohn feels, expresses and fuels the antisemitism, allowing not only a Karega to say such vile things about Jews—“but for an enlightened liberal arts community to accept them.” I had experienced anti-Israel sentiment during high school, but I never felt uncontrolled animosity until attending Oberlin College. Throughout my first year at Oberlin, I felt a range of awful emotions that I would have never thought to associate with being a pro-Israel Jewish student. I felt ashamed of myself and my beliefs, scared for how I would be treated by my peers, and incredibly angry and hurt. The shame began at the very start of school, when someone asked me what my Israel Defense Forces (IDF) T-shirt was referring to and then gave me weird and discouraging looks when I explained. In that moment, I learned not to mention the IDF, or even Israel itself. When I returned to my dorm, I shamefully stuffed the T-shirt into the bottom corner of a drawer, never to be worn at Oberlin again. It was really horrible to realize that I felt uncomfortable wearing this very meaningful shirt in the place I was to call home for the next four years. I decided to wear my bullet necklace from the Ayalon Institute Museum in Israel every day, because it was a less noticeable way to show my support for Israel, and keep it close to my heart. On Being Pro-Israel, and Jewish, at Oberlin College | 373 Later that same week, I heard about a Free Palestine event. I felt compelled to go because the poster said open mic. I wanted to voice my support of Israel, but my friends (both Jewish and non-Jewish) convinced me not to go because they worried that it would make people hate me or start a fight. So I stayed in my dorm, feeling ostracized, alienated, confused. I thought that Oberlin’s Hillel might offer a safe space to talk about Israel without those worries. Yet it did not give me an outlet. When someone tried to bring up Israel at a Hillel meeting, the subject was shot down. We were told that the place for discussing Israel was at a J Street meeting, a group I believed to be more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israel. For me, that moment when even Jewish students pushed Israel away was one of my worst. After that meeting, my feelings of detachment from my Jewish peers really grew. I started to question and second-guess myself. Maybe I had been wrong my entire life. Maybe the feelings of comfort and of belonging I experienced during my first trip to Israel were just a mirage in the Negev. When you are an outcast, you feel like you should be ashamed of what you think and where you stand. With hostility toward Israel coming from non-Jews and Jews alike, I felt silenced, afraid of all the hate that would come at me the second I opened my mouth. The rest of that first semester was mostly calm, until mid-December of 2015, when a black student organization issued a list of its demands.1 When it first came out, I really wanted to sign it because of how much I supported their cause. Yet I couldn’t sign it because it also contained this: a demand for “the immediate divestment from all prisons and Israel.” This statement casually connected the idea of America’s problematic prison system to the idea of Israel, which without a doubt intentionally demonized Israel. Israel had nothing to do with the situation of black students at Oberlin, let alone...


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