STEVEN PLAUT: THE SO CALLED KLAN INFILTRATION OF OBERLIN COLLEGE
The news media have been buzzing for several days about the supposed appearance on the campus of Oberlin College in Ohio of a person dressed in a Ku Klux Klan robe. Supposedly this was just the latest twist in an upsurge of “hate speech” on the ultra-liberal campus, manifested in graffiti and other expressions.
Oberlin College is an elite liberal arts college that is so far Left that it is in the same league as Bard and Amherst. In the 19th century the town of Oberlin was an end station for the underground railway smuggling slaves to the north, and the college likes to pretend it is still part of some grand political action movement. A sculpture celebrating the town’s role in freeing slaves is still an important feature.
Leftwing agitprop is common in many of the college’s departments. I know. Years back I was on the faculty of Oberlin. A while later I was on the faculty at Berkeley, and can make comparisons. At Berkeley the townies are leftist nuts but the students are mainly hard -working conservative Asians and the faculty are surprisingly conservative, with exceptions in the usual departments of dingbatocracy. At Oberlin, in contrast, almost all of the students and faculty make Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky look like Republicans. I was one of only two faculty members there who voted for Reagan. The other was a rightwing professor of German history. We got along famously and loved mocking the hardcore members of the Communist Party who had offices down the corridor from us. The other faculty members just passed us clicking their tongues in pity.
For decades Oberlin has hosted the annual conventions of the Trotskyite “Socialist Workers Party.” In spite of the name “Socialist Workers” you should not presume that members of this party have jobs. In any case, whenever they are in town, the college turns over “security” on the campus to the Trots. When I was teaching there, the SWP’s NKVD squad tried to prevent me from entering my office building. When I complained to the administration, I was told that the Trots were granted control of campus security because they had legitimate fears of FBI infiltration, and so had the right to prevent me from entering my office. In other words, the SWP did not have to wait for the Revolution to create a police state, since Oberlin was already letting them do it there. SWP party missionaries would roam the campus and stop students to convert them to Trotskyism. ”What is a Trotskyite?” one student asked, and the cadre responded, “Well you have heard of Stalinism, right? and if you are not a Stalinist then you must be a Trotskyite.” An Oberlin student that year asked me what the difference was between a Trotskyite and a Trotskyist. I replied that it was roughly the same as the difference between cow manure and bull manure.
News of the “Klan assault” against Oberlin spread immediately to the international news media. In the aftermath of the “assault,” all classes were shut down for a day by the Oberlin administration, so that students could attend a 60s-style “teach-in” about the horrors of bigotry and learn to be sensitive. The local police were also called onto the campus to investigate “hate speech.” The college president, Marvin Krislov, issued an official apology on behalf of the college to “students who felt threatened.” The college claims a series of “hate crimes” has taken place on campus, many involving graffiti and one involving a student getting mugged near the campus. But the trigger for the campus shutdown was a dubious “report” that someone was seen on campus near the “Afrikan Heritage House” dressed in Ku Klux Klan robes.
There were a number of problems with this Klan report, even assuming the “perp” was not someone simply protesting the misspelling of the word African. Slate and others claim the “person in Klan robes” was merely a woman who stepped out into the cold wrapped in a blanket. Even if it was someone wearing a Klan robe, why assume it was anything other than some sort of frat prank? Why turn it into an international headline revealing the underlying racism in Obama’s Amerika? (Yes, that is how lots of Oberlin people spell America.)
Not surprising for a college consisting of people still living in the 1960s, Israel bashing is more common than sleet at Oberlin. There is a boisterous group of “Students for a Free Palestine” (founded three decades back) and “Students for Justice in Palestine,” groups that make little effort to hide their support for Hamas, Palestinian terrorism, and atrocities against Jews. Oberlin has hosted more than its fair share of “Israel Apartheid Week” events, in which students call for the annihilation of the only country in the Middle East that is NOT an apartheid regime. Back when I was on its faculty a “Palestinian Human Rights Watch” organization operated on campus. It was promoting boycotts and divestment from Israel, which it claimed resembled apartheid South Africa.
The most noteworthy aspect of the “Klan assault” story involving Oberlin is the hypocrisy regarding anti-Jewish campus hate speech. The same administration so upset by a fictional Klan robe has nothing at all to say about campus events openly endorsing murderous attacks against Israeli Jews or celebrating genocidal Palestinian movements. Oberlin had a long romance with Edward Said, hosting him on numerous occasions for events that triggered Bash-the-Jews rhetoric and even granting him a special award of honor in 1996. The college has its own chapter of the anti-Israel “J Street.” Oberlin president Krislov, who is Jewish and was once a member of a Zionist youth movement, has done nothing about these anti-Semitic campus events thinly disguised as support for Palestinians.
The same Anti-Defamation League liberals who congratulated Oberlin College for taking decisive steps against the imaginary Klansman on campus has never had a word to say about the malicious anti-Semitic defamations by the “Students for Justice for Palestine,” the “Israel Apartheid Week” hoodlums, and the other groups that bash Jews on campus. Neither do the other liberal postureurs against racism and bigotry.
The one question no one is asking regarding the “Klan incident” is this: Suppose someone really HAD strolled about the Oberlin snowdrifts in Klan uniform. Why is THAT not protected speech? Why is that a crime? And before answering that, it behooves us to recall that dressing up as Hamas terrorists and smearing Jews in campus “street theater” is not only considered protected speech on most Western campuses these days, but “Let’s Destroy Israel” conferences and rallies are held openly every week.
The make-pretend free speech absolutists insist that nothing at all should be allowed to interfere with the right of students to call for annihilation of Israel and mass murder of its population. But a snide comment about blacks or homosexuals is considered “hate speech,” and it justifies calling in the police and shutting down the entire campus while the perps of “hate speech” are hunted down. Speech codes proliferate, which make it an expellable offense to say “I disapprove of homosexuality.” Denouncing Israel as an “apartheid” regime that must be obliterated, celebrating suicide bombings against Israelis, or denouncing Jews as racists is all just nice clean academic discourse.
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