Point Park prof claiming anti-Semitism at university garners community support
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BDSHolocaust survivor has taught at Point Park for five decades

Point Park prof claiming anti-Semitism at university garners community support

More than 100 people showed up to meeting in support of Channa Newman, who is suing for employment discrimination

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

Chana Newman no longer feels alone.

Since news broke of the professor’s lawsuit against Point Park University, claiming employment discrimination based on her Jewish and Israeli ancestry, and alleging that there has been a concerted effort led by anti-Zionist faculty and students to create a hostile work environment, support for her cause has been “overwhelming,” she said.

She has received messages from people all over the world, including Austria, Canada and Israel, telling her they are in her corner following what she claims is a concerted effort by university employees to stigmatize her and sabotage her career because she is Jewish and a Zionist.

Newman, a Holocaust survivor with U.S., Israeli and Czech citizenship, has been employed by Point Park since 1964. She is currently the chair of the department of humanities and social sciences and is a professor of French and cultural studies.

She originally filed her multicount complaint against the university in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, but the case has been removed to federal court by the attorneys for Point Park.

In her lawsuit, Newman alleges that Professor Robert Ross, an outspoken critic of Israel, used his position at the university to promote “highly anti-Zionist views and activities” and to “foster the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.” She says that Ross and others sought to have her removed from her position because she did not acquiesce to their one-sided presentation of the conflict.

She also claims in her complaint that, with the support of Point Park, Ross and Professor J. Dwight Hines have “advanced militant and hateful views against Israel and in favor of BDS that are anti-Semitic and lead to the creation of a hostile work environment,” and that the anti-Zionists on campus tried to remove her from her position at Point Park through the filing of a Title IX complaint, in which a student claimed that Newman made an insensitive comment about the #MeToo movement.

Newman was exonerated from the Title IX charges, but not before she had endured significant maltreatment from the university, including having her classes cancelled mid-semester, being prohibited from campus and being denied access to her email, she claims.

More than 100 Pittsburghers, including about 30 Israelis, came out to support Newman at a meeting on Feb. 27 organized by Julie Paris and Anat Talmy and held at Chabad of Squirrel Hill.

“When I read the article, like so many others in our community, I was distressed and disturbed,” Paris said, referring to a Jan. 24 Jewish Chronicle piece. “What could I do? We as a community have a responsibility to stand with her and lift her up. All Jewish people are responsible for one another.”

Paris, who did not know Newman at the time, reached out via email to lend support, then organized a meeting with other Jewish Pittsburghers to strategize how to help the professor. They decided to host the community event that took place on Feb. 27, with Newman and her attorney, Jim Lieber, sharing her story with the crowd.

Josh Sayles, director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Community Relations Council, also spoke at the event, expounding on the dangers of the BDS movement.

The aim of the BDS movement’s founders “is to eliminate Israel’s existence as a Jewish state,” Sayles said, explaining that the movement’s ambition toward a one-state solution encompasses the Palestinian refugees’ “right of return” to within all boundaries of the State of Israel, ultimately causing Jews to be a minority there.

“The BDS movement is anti-Semitic,” Sayles said, “because it attempts to eliminate Israel as a Jewish state.”

Sayles also explained the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic work of FOSNA, a group for which Ross is a local leader, and Sabeel, its parent organization. FOSNA and Sabeel promote boycotts of the Jewish state.

Sabeel’s leaders have spoken of Israel as “original sin,” referred to the Palestinian refugee issue as “ethnic cleansing” and have said that Israel is “crucifying the Palestinians,” promulgating the ancient blood libel against Jews, Sayles said.

The goal of BDS leaders, he stressed, “is to bring anti-Semitism into the mainstream.”

Sayles and Federation president and CEO Jeffrey Finkelstein met with Point Park officials in February and “let them know that Point Park’s reputation is suffering in the Jewish community in Pittsburgh,” Sayles said. “We let them know the Federation is there for them for resources and that we are all paying very close attention” to the Newman case.

Point Park officials were invited to attend the community meeting on Feb. 27, but declined. “Since Point Park University is involved in ongoing litigation with Dr. Channa Newman, the presence of her attorney at the February 27 meeting made it impossible for any University representative to participate,” a Point Park spokesperson said in a prepared statement.

“The allegations raised in the lawsuit filed by Dr. Newman will be aired in a formal court setting, and that is where the University will respond.

“Point Park has always and continues to unequivocally denounce racism and hatred of any kind, including antisemitism. University leadership is engaged in meaningful and productive discussions with the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh,” the statement continued.

For now, Newman’s lawyer is looking ahead to a “big fight.”

“We are fully committed,” Lieber said. “This system really has to change — some of that is in the court and some of that is in the community.”

“It’s not just about legal documents, it’s about changing attitudes and reducing prejudice,” he continued. “We hope this process will be conducive to change so that the Zionist and Israeli point of view is not threatened.”

Paris asked attendees at the Feb. 27 meeting to sign a letter of support for Newman, which she sent to Point Park’s board of trustees and the university’s president, asking them “to take a stand against all forms of anti-Semitism, hate and discrimination,” and urging them to “send a clear and firm message that Point Park University, like the City of Pittsburgh itself, is no place for hate.”

As of press time, she had not received a response from Point Park.

While Newman is still teaching at Point Park this semester, she continues to be “defamed,” she said. “There are students who still haven’t spoken to me since the Title IX accusation.” But the support of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community has been comforting to the professor.

“Now, it’s like it’s not just my own battle and that’s really good,” she said. “It’s so important I’m not alone anymore.” PJC

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

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