Joy Karega, an assistant professor of rhetoric and composition at Oberlin College accused of making anti-Semitic posts and comments online, has been suspended from teaching at the school and placed on paid leave while an investigation into her actions continues.
The Oberlin College board of trustees asked the school to launch an internal investigation into Karega in March, and that process is ongoing, according to an Aug. 3 statement from the private liberal arts college, about 40 miles southwest of Cleveland.
“In March, in consultation with President Marvin Krislov, the trustees of Oberlin College asked the administration and faculty to ‘challenge the assertion that there is any justification for these repugnant postings,’” the statement said. “The college initiated its faculty governance process to review Dr. Karega’s professional fitness in light of these postings.
“The faculty governance process that began thereafter is ongoing, and the Oberlin administration will continue to respect this process as it plays out. Until that process is complete, Dr. Karega has been placed on paid leave and will not teach at Oberlin.”
Karega, whose full name is Joilynn Karega-Mason, could not be reached for comment. But she posted this on her Facebook page the morning of Aug. 3:
“I will continue to receive letters and notes of support here in my messages inbox and via email. I will read them. Trolls and those of you who have been surveiling my Facebook account since March, keep on keepin on, but I have NO COMMENT. I am more than blessed and grateful to have people adequately prepared, equipped, and more knowledgeable than me working on my behalf.”
In a joint statement from the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, the Anti-Defamation League Cleveland Region, AJC Cleveland and the Cleveland Hillel Foundation issued Aug. 3, the organizations stated: “We appreciate and respect Oberlin College’s decision to remove professor Joy Karega from teaching and student advising duties while the administrative review process continues. This interim decision sends an important message about the college’s commitment to seeing that academic freedom is not abused to the detriment of the students.
“The Jewish Federation of Cleveland, the Cleveland Hillel Foundation, AJC Cleveland and the Anti-Defamation League Cleveland region look forward to working with the college in the coming semester to foster a campus climate of openness, acceptance, tolerance and mutual respect where students can learn and thrive.”
Those same organizations met with Krislov and several members of his senior staff March 3 to discuss Karega and the posts in question.
In a March 5 statement, Clyde McGregor, chair of the Oberlin College board of trustees, condemned Karega’s comments, saying, “We deplore all forms of bigotry. They have no place at Oberlin.”
On Aug. 2, the Algemeiner, an online news portal for Jewish and Israel news, reported that an Oberlin alumni group had questioned why the administration hadn’t yet taken action against Karega for her Facebook posts.
In these since-deleted posts on her personal Facebook page, Karega shared comments, blog posts and videos that some have deemed anti-Semitic.
One week after the Charlie Hebdo shooting on Jan.7, 2015, for instance, Karega shared an image of an ISIS terrorist pulling off a mask resembling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The terrorist had a tattoo on his forearm of the Star of David with the words “JSIL Israel.” The text on the photo read, “France wants to free Palestine? Time for a false flag …”
Karega’s post that accompanied the image read in part, “Folks who turn off the indoctrinated media and do their homework know where Charlie Hebdo receives its support and backing. And for a prime example of these workings? Try generating a similar kind of satire attacking Zionism. I dare you.
“And I didn’t say attacking Jews. I said attacking Zionism. But let some tell it, an attack on Zionism is an attack on Jews. It’s anti-Semitic, so they say. Total nonsense.”
On Nov. 17, 2015, Karega wrote on Facebook, “It’s troubling that in this day and age, when there is all this access to information, most of the public doesn’t know who and what ISIS really is. I promise you, ISIS is not a jihadist, Islamic terrorist organization. It’s a CIA and Mossad operation, and there’s too much information out here for the general public not to know this.”
And on March 7, 2015, Karega shared a blog post and video from a website called “Muslims for 9/11 Truth.” In her own post, Karega wrote that she’s not a fan of Louis Farrakhan, leader of the religious movement Nation of Islam, but that “politically, Farrakhan is truth-telling in this video.”
In the video she references, Farrakhan states, “Thanks to the exemplary work of scholars like Victor Thorn and Christopher Bollyn it is now becoming apparent that there were many Israeli and Zionist Jews in key roles in the 9/11 attack.”
Oberlin alumni were outraged that Karega continued to teach at the college, as was Anita Gray, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, though Gray noted she supports Karega’s rights to free speech under the First Amendment.
On Aug. 3, Gray said by email, “It is my understanding that Oberlin College has removed Professor Karega from all teaching and advising duties while their process of review continues. I think it is entirely appropriate until the matter is finished, which it is not quite yet. The ADL will be conducting campus anti-bias programming this fall.”
Mark Jaffee, a longtime Oberlin resident, 1967 Oberlin College alumnus and religious director of Agudath B’nai Israel Synagogue in Lorain, said in an email, “I agree with the college that even though this process is taking a lot longer than most people would like, the results will affect more than just this one professor; it will set a protocol of the limits of academic freedom that will affect professors for years to come.”
“A faculty committee met last spring and will make its findings known this fall,” he continued. “The issues that they had to consider were that professor Karega’s postings were inflammatory and blatantly anti-Semitic, but the principle of academic freedom is that a faculty member can make false, obnoxious and abhorrent statements outside of their professional area, but professionally one is judged on the quality of one’s research and teaching.”
Staff Reporter Carlo Wolff contributed to this story.