‘Ohio is infested with Zionism': College activists spark alarm over alleged anti-Semitic attacks

Alumni and students from a prominent college in Ohio are concerned that pro-Palestinian student activists have taken their political views too far — creating an anti-Semitic culture on campus with comments that Israel is a “violent apartheid state” and “Ohio is infested with Zionism.”

As a result, they say, pro-Israel advocates on campus are being harassed for their allegiance to Israel.

More than 200 alumni and students of Oberlin College have written an open letter to the school’s president and board of trustees, asserting that the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement on campus has become a platform for anti-Semitism. The letter urged Oberlin officials to open a forum where students and alumni who have felt victimized can share their experiences, and to create a task force to address the issue.

Oberlin President Marvin Krislov was set to meet with an alum on Tuesday to discuss the concerns.

“Our greatest concern is that Jewish students at Oberlin who have close connections to Israel are being subjected to anti-Semitic attacks,” Oberlin alumna Melissa Landa, now an instructor at the University of Maryland, told The Washington Post.

“There’s also a free speech issue,” she added, “part of that is being free to hear a variety of positions — and that’s not happening on the Oberlin campus.”

[More U.S. academic groups join boycott of Israel — and critics push back]

Landa said Oberlin alumni had been hearing about anti-Semitism on campus over the past several years.

In early 2013, for instance, the college canceled classes after a racism hoax in which fliers containing racial slurs and derogatory statements were pinned across campus; the fliers targeted several student minority groups, including African Americans, Jews and members of the LGBTQ community. A student who got caught with some of the fliers told authorities they were “a joke,” according to a city police report.

During a campus rally to address the purported hate speech, Landa said Jewish students told her they felt left out of the conversations. Though homophobia and racism were addressed, they said, anti-Semitism was sidelined; one Jewish student told her that when she stood up to speak, some chanted “free Palestine.”

Landa said she recently experienced this firsthand when she expressed her political views in an online forum open to Oberlin students and alumni.

“I was called a Zionist cultist,” she said. “I was told I comfortably sit in my home in Maryland while I allow others to kill innocent Palestinians on my behalf.

“This is one of the dynamics — if you refuse to denounce Israel as a murderous regime, then you are complicit … and you can be targeted as an oppressor.”

Landa drafted the letter and sent it to the school.

Oberlin’s president has since said he condemns “any form of anti-Semitism on campus.”

“We have an active Jewish community and religious community on campus,” Krislov said in a statement. “As on many campuses, there is a robust discussion of Middle East politics, which includes Israel.

“Such discussions are part of our mission as an institution of higher education.”

The issue prompted the student group Students for a Free Palestine to respond to the accusations.

“We see these accusations as a way to limit the free speech of students, silence political activism and intimidate pro-Palestinian activists,” the group said in a statement, referring to the open letter. “Confronting the realities of the occupation is uncomfortable and difficult, but it is not anti-Semitic.

“We will continue to confront the realities of the occupation on our campus.”

[Opinion: How academic efforts to boycott Israel harm our students]

Since 2005, the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement has been putting pressure on Israel to withdraw from territories it settled after the Six-Day War — namely the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Opponents say it has been known to take it a step further — sometimes suggesting that Israel should not exist at all.

But its activists such as Anna Baltzer, national organizer for the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, say it is a rights-based movement designed to end Israeli occupation in Palestinian lands, win complete equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel and fight for the right of return of Palestinian refugees.