Open Letter to Point Park University President Paul Hennigan:
The US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) Organizing Collective writes in response to your recent Op-Ed in the Pittsburg Jewish Chronicle, where you assert Point Park University’s principled opposition to all forms of discrimination, including antisemitism, which you uncritically state “includes support for the BDS movement.” We contest this characterization. As with any meaningful struggle against oppression, BDS is committed to a much-needed intersectionality that your own response lacks.
Your Op-Ed responds to Jewish community members’ criticism regarding postponement of the musical Parade; and of faculty member Channa Newman’s lawsuit, in which she charges Point Park University (PPU) with harassment based on her age, race, national origin, religion, and sex. In defending PPU against charges of antisemitism, you falsely equate support for the BDS movement with antisemitism, condemning both in the name of the university’s ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusivity.
We strongly condemn this characterization of the BDS movement, in which you ignore its central principled and inclusive call “that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity.” Your mischaracterization feeds into the destructive logic that human rights are a zero sum game. In doing so, your Op-Ed foments the very discrimination and divisiveness you say you oppose. One could ask instead: “what does it say about Israel if demanding equal rights for all its citizens, and justice for those whose land it is occupying, is a threat to that country?”
In your rush to defend your university against charges of antisemitism, you ignore issues of colonial violence, racism and sexual violence, and implicitly pit them against antisemitism. As members of the USACBI Organizing Collective, we insist that these forms of oppression must be addressed intersectionally, and that it is all the more urgent to do so during a pandemic that is at once global, and which, in its uneven impact, is also intensifying everyday forms of violence and oppression, even as it is making these pre-existing conditions not newsworthy.
As you focus on reassuring readers that you and the university are not antisemitic, here are some of the things you overlook:
You evade how or why the university was not ready to view Parade. This musical, which takes up a case in which a Jewish man was charged with the rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl, puts forth in its conclusion the (unproven) hypothesis that the true culprit was a Black janitor. You neglect to mention that theater students who found the content of the musical racist pressured PPU to postpone the play, and that of the 20 members of the theater department there are no Black and only one or two faculty members of color. We note that your concern regarding antisemitism is nowhere accompanied by an expression of concern with anti-Black racism, or with the issues of class, gender, and sexual violence at work in this play.
The Op-Ed abruptly jumps from the discussion of Parade to the lawsuit filed by faculty member Channa Newman against PPU. In the 130+ page lawsuit she filed, Newman objects to the Title IX charges filed against her, which she notes have had ongoing consequences even after she was exonerated from these charges. That she refuses to consider these consequences as fuelled by anything other than antisemitism and BDS-related activism conforms to her pattern of seeing herself only as a victim of antisemitism, which trumps and erases all else. As a Holocaust survivor, Newman indisputably has experienced profoundly horrific antisemitism. But when she fails to distinguish between genocidal antisemitism perpetuated by Nazis and solidarity with the Palestinian people, she perpetuates a racist and settler colonial logic that views Palestinians not as a people resisting dispossesion, displacement, a medieval siege, and the illegal occupation of their land. Instead, she casts those who participate in the struggle for justice and freedom in Palestine as fuelled by an unfounded hatred of “all Jews,” rather than opposition to Zionism, be it Jewish or Christian, secular or atheist. Indeed, the Jewish community itself is divided over BDS, with many prominent clergy and activists fully supportive of this Palestine solidarity movement.
As an organization committed to BDS, and in light of your own stated commitment to diversity and inclusion, we urge you to reach out to members of the PPU community, as well as to USACBI members, whose determined attention to intersectionality says no to antisemitism, no to racism, no to sexual violence, and no to settler colonialism, while supporting the struggle for justice in Palestine. Especially during the crises that a global pandemic is putting into such desperate relief, the urgency remains to unify against–and to collectively oppose–persisting and exponentially increasing forms of violence and oppression.
With an ongoing commitment to Palestine, and to solidarity,
The USACBI Organizing Collective
Photo credit: J. James