US judge throws out malicious anti-Semitism claim against university professor

A protest condemning Germany for calling the BDS movement anti-Semitic outside of Germany's Representative Office in the West Bank (AFP)

Middle East Monitor  /  July 29, 2022

In a victory for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, a US judge has thrown out bogus anti-Semitism claims against a professor at Pittsburgh university in a lawsuit based on the highly controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Jewish racism.

Pro-Israel groups have been advocating IHRA’s adoption for several years saying that the non-binding definition will not stifle free speech on Israel. Critics, however, have consistently warned that not only will the IHRA have a chilling effect on free speech, but it will also give ammunition to radicalized Zionist groups to pursue malicious lawsuits against critics of the Apartheid State.

Robert Ross, who teaches literary arts and social justice studies at Point Park University appears to have been the victim of such spurious and malicious lawsuits which are designed to intimidate critics of Israel as much as to instill fear in anyone advocating for Palestinian rights.

The lawsuit against Ross was filed in 2019 by Channa Newman, a professor at the university. Newman claimed that she was a target of anti-Semitism due to her Zionist beliefs. According to the Electronic Intifada, Newman’s lawsuit alleged Ross used his position to foster “a militant version” of the BDS movement and “hateful views against Israel” that “are anti-Semitic.”

Newman, who made her case using the US State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism which has very similar wording to the IHRA, further alleged that the political views of Ross, and those of his students, led to a hostile work environment for her. As is the case with the IHRA, the State Department definition includes claims that it is anti-Semitic to say Israel’s foundation was a “racist endeavour” or to apply “double standards” to Israel by requiring from it “behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

In his ruling, the judge asserted that if the court accepted Newman’s allegations, it would “invalidate” on its face and on civil rights grounds “an entire academic and public debate” and that it would give Newman “a veto over others engaging in that same debate.” The judge further added that Newman was effectively seeking to “compel” the speech and views of others to be consistent with hers.

“I am relieved and thrilled,” Ross told The Electronic Intifada. “The judge took the time to articulate why he’s not granting this work environment claim and that there’s nothing inherently hostile with [advocating for] BDS. In these times, we’ll take what we can get. I think it’s a victory,” he explained.

“The judge, to me, made it clear that there’s nothing legally wrong with teaching BDS, participating in BDS, or advocating for it,” Ross added. The dismissal of the hostile work environment claims, Ross added, “should be empowering, it should be a green light for other folks to engage in this movement.”