(Editor’s note: This is a revised version of the original story and contains additions throughout.)
The Pitt News, the University of Pittsburgh’s student-run newspaper, has refused to run a paid advertisement submitted by a Jewish student in response to the recent on-campus performance of a one-woman show titled “I Heart Hamas: And Other things I’m Afraid to Tell You.”
But Wednesday afternoon, the News business staff announced it had reversed its decision, saying in a statement to The Chronicle, that it would allow the ad to run under certain conditions.
“I Heart Hamas” explores how Jennifer Jajeh, a Palestinian American, returns to her family’s hometown of Ramallah at the start of the second intifada, and “becomes Palestinian-ized, then politicized and eventually radicalized in a fresh, often funny, searingly honest way,” according to the show’s website.
The performance was held on Pitt’s campus Sunday, Oct. 24, and it was free of charge. The Students for Justice in Palestine and the University of Pittsburgh sponsored the show; student government board’s allocation committee helped finance it, allocating $2,524.42.
Pitt student Samantha Vinokor paid for and submitted an ad to the Pitt News that was originally accepted for publication, then rejected without being printed. The ad challenged the allocation of student funds for a show with a title “that should be offensive to the entire University of Pittsburgh community,” and cited the tactics and stated tenets of Hamas.
The ad was rejected, said Pitt News Business Manager Adam Kauffman, not because it was inaccurate, but because he thought it could be offensive to readers of the newspaper.
The ad stated that: Hamas is a terrorist organization that uses the Gaza Strip as a launching pad to send rockets into Israel; Hamas is responsible for carrying out numerous suicide bombings targeting Israeli civilians and resulting in the deaths of both Israelis and Americans; members of Hamas “have been documented using Palestinian children as human shields to guard militants;” and, Hamas is “currently holding captive an Israeli soldier named Gilad Shalit, who was abducted on June 25, 2006, and has violated international law and the Geneva Convention by refusing to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit Shalit.”
The ad further stated that Jajeh, the performer of the play, “advocates on her blog for a ‘one-state solution’ accusing Israel of being ‘a colonizing nation’ and of occupation and ethnic cleansing.”
Kauffman, who said he has Jewish family members, said he rejected the ad because of its heading, which read: “I heart murder. I heart anti-Semitism. I heart terrorism. I heart human shields. I heart Hamas.”
“It was a decision we made because if someone was just flipping through the paper, and saw that, they would flip out,” Kauffman said.
While admitting that the content of the ad was “true,” Kauffman said he “didn’t want to run an ad that read ‘I heart murder’ at the top.”
Kauffman said he did not offer to run the ad if Vinokor removed the heading, but thought that was implied when he told her he was rejecting the ad because of its content.
“In her [Vinokor’s] defense, I never said, ‘If you revise it, we’ll run it,’” Kauffman said. “But she had the window to say ‘If I revise it, will you run it?’”
After The Chronicle’s deadline Wednesday, Kauffman in an emailed statement to the Chronicle, reversed himself, saying the ad would be allowed to run under two “provisions.”
“The Business Division, namely myself, has decided to allow the student group the opportunity to run the ad in question under two provisions: that the student group clearly identify itself in the ad and, that the words ‘paid advertising content’ appear in the ad as not to cause confusion over whether or not the ad is editorial content. (This has been our policy for numerous other student and university groups. …), Kauffman wrote.
Kauffman added that made this proposal Vinokor on Tuesday, Nov. 9. “On [Wednesday] Nov. 10, Ms. Vinokor declined over the phone to place the ad,” he added.
Vinokor originally declined comment on the situation, but then released her own statement:
“I am happy with the response and have no ill will towards the Pitt News,” Vinokor wrote. “Although the initial ad will not be run given the amount of time that has lapsed, I am looking forward to doing additional work with the Pitt News in other capacities.”
The Pitt News did run a story about the show in its Oct. 25 addition, with the headline “Actress performs ‘I heart Hamas’ at Pitt.”
Calling the Israeli/Palestinian conflict a “touchy subject,” Kauffman said it is not something with which the business side of the paper should have to deal.
“If she wanted to get this information across,” Kauffman said of Vinokor, “it would have been cheaper and more effective to send as a letter to the editor. This shouldn’t have gone to the business staff.”
Pitt News Editor-in-Chief Liz Navratil said she played no part in the decision to reject the ad, telling the Chronicle. “I don’t do anything with ad sales.”
While the Pitt News publishes other ads which might be considered controversial, such as ads for and against abortion rights, and for strip clubs, the paper has no formal policy regarding what types of ads should be rejected.
“It’s on a case-by-case basis,” Kauffman said.
The Zionist Organization of America sent a letter late last week to Navratil, asking for a “legitimate explanation” for the paper’s refusal to run the ad. The letter states: “It certainly appears that the paper had a political agenda and was trying to censor information to the university community that would have told the truth about Hamas and exactly what it does and stands for.”
Navratil had not responded to the ZOA’s letter by the time this paper went to press.
“I’m hopeful we will hear back,” said Susan Tuchman, director of the Center for Law and Justice, who signed the ZOA letter along with its national president, Morton Klein. “The Pitt News certainly has the discretion to reject ads, but why this one? The paper has not shied away from other ads that people could find offensive. It certainly looks like a political agenda, but we want to hear back from [Navratil].”
In the meantime, The Tartan, the student-run newspaper of Carnegie Mellon University, ran an opinion piece, Friday Nov. 5, critical of the Pitt News’ decision to reject Vinokor’s ad.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)