Lawfare joins Point Park prof’s legal team in discrimination suit
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College controversy'This was right up our alley.'

Lawfare joins Point Park prof’s legal team in discrimination suit

The national nonprofit will help litigate Channa Newman's claims that she was discriminated against because she opposed anti-Israel activity.

Channa Newman (Photo by Toby Tabachnick)
Channa Newman (Photo by Toby Tabachnick)

A nonprofit network of legal professionals that defends the civil rights of Jews and the pro-Israel community will be helping a local professor in her case against Point Park University.

The Lawfare Project, whose work includes offering legal help to university and college students and faculty who contend their rights are violated through anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, will now help fund and assist professor Channa Newman in her employment discrimination suit against Point Park.

Pittsburgh attorney Jim Lieber continues to serve as attorney on the case as well.

Newman, a Holocaust survivor who has U.S., Israeli and Czech citizenship, has been employed by Point Park since 1964. She filed suit against the university earlier this year claiming that Point Park allowed a concerted effort, led by anti-Zionist faculty and students, to create a hostile work environment for her.

She alleges that professor Robert Ross, an outspoken critic of Israel, used his position at the university to promote “highly anti-Zionist views and activities” — including accusing Israel of “apartheid” and “ethnic cleansing” — and to “foster the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.” Additionally, Ross attempted to establish a class called “Israel: A Settler State,” according to the complaint.

Newman claims that Ross and others retaliated against her because she did not acquiesce to their one-sided presentation of the conflict.

The anti-Zionists on campus sought to have Newman removed from her position, she claims, through the filing of a “bogus” Title IX complaint in which a student alleged that Newman made an insensitive comment about the #MeToo movement. Title IX protects people from discrimination based on sex and is commonly invoked in cases of sexual harassment.

Newman, who currently chairs the department of humanities and social sciences and is a professor of French and cultural studies, was exonerated from the Title IX charges, but not before she had endured significant maltreatment from the university, including having her classes canceled mid-semester, being suspended from campus and being denied access to her email, she claims.

Lieber, Newman’s attorney, reached out to the Lawfare Project to see if it was interested in joining his client’s legal team, according to Ziporah Reich, director of litigation for the Lawfare Project.

“This is a textbook example of anti-Semitic discrimination in the workplace,” Reich said. “And that’s exactly the type of Jew-hatred the Lawfare Project is dedicated to fighting. Yeah, this was right up our alley, and I was glad to come on board.”

At its core, Reich explained, the case “is about professors that have come onto the university campus and have tried to use their classrooms as a platform to disseminate really vicious lies about the situation in the Middle East regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, and vicious lies about Israel itself.”

When Newman spoke out against it, Reich said, “that’s when the professors decided that they wanted to oust her, they wanted to get her off campus. They didn’t like the fact that she was objecting to their propaganda.”

Point Park has denied all claims of wrongdoing contained in the complaint. The university declined to comment for this article.

Ross maintains the claims against him in Newman’s complaint are false.

“I continue to stand in solidarity with those on the front lines of struggles against misogyny, racism, anti-Semitism, and other forms of exploitation and oppression,” Ross wrote in a Sept. 24 email to the Chronicle. “The allegations expressed in this lawsuit are not supported by any evidence or semblance of truth. They are, rather, an attempt to use anti-Palestinian sentiment to deflect blame for a professor’s inappropriate and traumatizing behavior toward a victim of sexual assault.”

For now, the case is on hold while Judge Mark Hornak of the Pennsylvania Western District Court deliberates on a motion to dismiss the case filed by Point Park. If Newman prevails on the motion to dismiss, the case will proceed into the discovery phase.

“We’re really hoping Lawfare brings great expertise in terms of dealing with the anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist claims,” said Lieber.

The Lawfare Project, said Newman, is a welcome addition to her legal team.

“Combating anti-Semitism in general is as important to me as defending myself against it,” she said. “Lawfare joining the case shows that the case truly has national implications.”

Anti-Zionism in the form of classroom propaganda is a “systemic problem on campuses,” Reich said. “This is not unique. Lots and lots of students all over the country are complaining that anti-Israel professors are using their classrooms and platforms to disseminate lies and propaganda about Israel and Zionism.” PJC

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at ttabachnick@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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