Activists challenge Point Park University president’s attack on BDS

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In its April 8 issue, the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle published an article titled, “Anti-Semitism in all forms, including BDS, has no place at Point Park,” by Point Park University president Paul Hennigan. In the article, Hennigan stated,“it is generally understood that any form of discrimination or hatred is not tolerated,” on the Point Park campus. In an oddly constructed first paragraph, the article lamented the “pandemic that has upended our lives,” and then proceeds to openly attack the BDS movement as if there is a correlation between the two experiences or events. Hennigan goes on to guarantee Zionists within the Jewish community that he opposes the BDS movement, a position ostensibly obtained from meetings with the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, and Jim Busis, CEO and publisher of the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, as well as “other prominent members of the Jewish community.” 

No where in the article does the president show that he attempted to contact Jewish community members or activists who support academic freedom, or who do not believe that the BDS movement is anti-Semitic. President Hennigan did not contact Palestinian leaders or movement solidarity activists, nor does he appear to do what any academic would require of their students when taking a position on such a critical matter; that is to retrieve and analyze multiple sources, to check for bias, to acknowledge differing voices or opinions, in short, to engage with alternative sides of an argument before coming to a conclusion.  To the contrary, the president stated emphatically that he opposed the  BDS movement because, in his words, it is anti-Semitic, and he says that he will continue to reach out to others in the Jewish community, who more or less represent the same anti-BDS position, including “Chabad and Hillel Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh.”

In contrast, over 70 individuals from a variety of disciplines and organizations wasted no time in responding to the president’s attack on the BDS movement in a letter that supports academic freedom, explains that the BDS movement is grounded in international law and human rights, and includes a strong condemnation of real anti-Semitism, which the president failed to do his Op-Ed. 

The protest letter states that the president’s harsh description of the BDS movement “has the potential to trample First Amendment rights, to silence and intimidate members of [his] community, including faculty, students and staff.” One can only assume from the president’s article that he believes that all supporters of the BDS movement, the Palestinian people and International supporters, are all anti-Jewish. As the letter states, “Nothing could be further from the truth.” 

Signatories include Christian religious leaders, rabbis, students, Point Park alumni, filmmakers, and academics. Members of the organizing committee of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott (USACBI),  along with Palestinian-American writer, Susan Abulhawa, Sam Bahour and Mazin Qumsiyeh, who both live in occupied Palestine and Israeli-activist, Jeff Halper, founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. Organizational support for the letter include Veterans for Peace of Western PA (Chapter 47), the United Electrical Workers (UE), and the Pittsburgh and Cleveland chapters of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). 

Open letters of protests were also sent to the president from the USACBI. Friends of Sabeel – North America, along with several national organizations are collecting signatures in an online petition protesting the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle article. 

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Nobody, certainly not university presidents should be denigrating BDS. My argument is with tactics of the protesters. This article fails by its own standards. Yes, Paul Hennigan does not indicate in his Jewish Chronicle article that he reached out to BDS proponents (why would he indicate that in an opinion piece in a mainstream Jewish paper?!). But then, neither did the author of this piece – or any of the many organizations quoted here. I… Read more »