Gainey, Innamorato detail negotiations to end Cathedral of Learning encampment
Dueling pressersCity officials, protest leaders hold separate events

Gainey, Innamorato detail negotiations to end Cathedral of Learning encampment

“Let me say right now, I condemn any antisemitic behavior in this state,” Gainey said.

At a June 4 press conference, Mayor Ed Gainey discussed his conversation with a group of protestors trespassing at the University of Pittsburgh. (Photo by David Rullo)
At a June 4 press conference, Mayor Ed Gainey discussed his conversation with a group of protestors trespassing at the University of Pittsburgh. (Photo by David Rullo)

Protesters trespassing at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning tore down their illegal encampment and left in the early hours of June 4 after a nearly three-hour negotiation with Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey and Allegheny County Executive Sara Innamorato.

During a Tuesday afternoon press conference, Gainey said he made it clear to protesters that the meeting was not an endorsement of their demands. Rather, he said, it was about finding a “safe resolution to a situation that had become unstable.”

After getting reports about the instability at the camp, Gainey said he gathered with members of his senior leadership team, as well as Innamorato, and contacted the protesters at the encampment “in order to deescalate the situation.”

As the leader of the city, the mayor said he has a responsibility to make sure “everyone goes home safely.”

Innamorato said that she and Gainey spoke with a small group of representatives from the camp, including a “faith leader” who asked for the pair to meet with a group that self-identified as University of Pittsburgh students and instructors.

“The people we spoke with were members of the Jewish and Palestinian communities,” Innamorato said. “We listened to their concerns and their stories.”

Representatives from the University of Pittsburgh were not part of the conversation.

Gainey said that the discussions did not include the steps the city or county would take if the protesters failed to leave but did acknowledge that the police were there “to do what they had to do if anybody got hurt, injured, were violent or it became unstable.”

He said that protesters asked him about a tweet mentioning the possibility of arrest. He answered, “Absolutely that could happen.”

Protest organizers held their own news conference on June 5. They said that University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Joan Gabel had called for the state police — ostensibly a step that Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro was willing to take — “and it was the threat of their violent sweep of the camp which forced us to end the encampment.”

They offered no proof of their claim and said that they had not spoken with the governor.

“We are not interested in talking with anyone who wants to brutalize students,” said someone identified as a leader with Pitt Apartheid Divestment, speaking by telephone at the news conference.

Much of the protestors’ news conference was spent demonizing Gabel, who refused to meet with the trespassers, and university police, who attempted to control the sometimes chaotic situation at the Cathedral of Learning.

The protesters said that Gainey told them that the chancellor “repeatedly lied to him and was not open to a line of communication with him, as she has also not done with us.”

Asked about their demand that the university sever ties with Hillel, the speaker on the telephone attempted to soften the group’s position.

“We have heard from our anti-Zionist Jewish comrades about the language used. We very much stand with the belief that no Zionist normalization and normalization of the Israeli apartheid regime should be normalized. We do support cutting ties with Zionist organizations such as Hillel and Chabad, but we are rethinking our language and there will be a post about that later today as we rethink the language so that we can listen to our Jewish community,” they said.

Organizers left open the possibility of more protests.

The city, Gainey said, is preparing for that possibility.

“We’re establishing meetings with chancellors of the universities, and we’re going to have a conversation about how we work together to respond to certain situations to make sure everybody goes home safe,” he said.

While many viewed the rhetoric and actions of the protesters as antisemitic, Gainey was clear on his position.

“Let me say right now, I condemn any antisemitic behavior in this state,” he said. “I’m speaking to everyone in the city when I say that we condemn antisemitic behavior. In addition, we also condemn anti-Arabic activity, in order to build a city where everyone can feel safe. It is clear to me that the only way to reach that goal is to honor the humanity in everyone.”

That statement didn’t satisfy Jeremy Kazzaz, the executive director of the Beacon Coalition, a nonpartisan organization that provides voter education on issues of concern to the Jewish American community. Kazzaz said that Gainey “still refuses to name and speak out against the blatant antisemitism on display at this encampment, whose organizers demand nothing less than the removal of Jewish communal organizations from campus. His statements fail to point out and categorically reject that hate.” PJC

David Rullo can be reached at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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