“The title raised immediate concerns because Hamas is a terrorist organization,” said Student Government President Charles Shull, of the one-woman comedy show brought to the Pitt campus by the Students for Justice in Palestine last month. “But it was apparent that the show was comedy-based.”
The student government board’s allocation committee at Pitt oversees the annual distribution of $2.5 million in funds to various student groups on campus, Shull said. The money comes from an activities fee assessed upon each student attending Pitt. Since SJP is an organization certified by the university, it is eligible to request funding for individual programs.
“We realize this is a hot button issue,” said Matt Grau, chair of student government board allocations, “but the show did fall in line with their (SJP’s) mission statement, and there was no advocating of violence.”
The mission statement of the SJP is to “provide the community with a better understanding and to educate the media of the various issues concerning Palestine with efforts towards helping the region to reach a goal of peace and justice,” according to university documents.
The 13-person allocation committee reviewed SJP’s request, and recommended funding for the show. Because the request was in excess of $500, the eight-member student government board then reviewed the allocations committee’s recommendation.
“We recognize that the SJP and the Israeli and Jewish-based groups are at odds,” said Shull. “We wanted to make sure that the show would not incite violence or create a hostile environment for our students. What came to light was that the show was comedic-based. We would not have funded it if it had in any way advocated a position of violence or was hostile in nature.”
Still, some members of the university community questioned the funding of a show with a title that appeared to support the terrorist group.
“My issues have nothing to do with the content of the play itself,” said Samantha Vinokor, president of Pitt’s Israel Public Affairs Committee, and the StandWithUs Emerson Fellow. “The issue I had was with the name. There were flyers all over campus, and the implication of the name was upsetting. Students I have been in contact with were offended.”
Vinokor had submitted a paid advertisement to The Pitt News, critical of the decision to use student funds for the program, and putting forth the stated tenets and tactics of Hamas. While that ad was rejected by the student-run newspaper, and never ran, The Pitt News has since issued an apology to Vinokor, and offered to run the ad.
“I’m looking forward to working with them (The Pitt News) in the future to advertise pro-Israel events,” Vinokor said, “and to utilize that forum to have a pro-Israel message on our campus.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)