Middle East studies in the News
Anti-Israel Students Target UT-Austin Israeli Studies Professor After Disrupting His Speech [incl. Ami Pedahzur]
Palestine Solidarity Committee launches campaign against Prof. Ami Pedahzur.
The intimidation of Israeli and pro-Israeli speakers on campuses continues unabated.
It just happened again at UT-Austin on November 13, 2015, but the video has just been posted. Twelve members of the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) disrupted a public event hosted by Professor Ami Pedahzur of UT's Institute for Israeli Studies titled "The Origin of a Species: The Birth of the Israeli Defense Forces' Military Culture." The invited guest speaker was Dr. Gil-Li Vardi from Stanford University.
The protesters and the anti-Israel propaganda machine including the national Students for Justice in Palestine are trying to turn the perpetrators into victims, with a video release being shared on Facebook and YouTube. The students not only disrupted the speech, when Prof. Pedahzur and another person (not clear if a professor or just a member of the audience) tried to get them to stop, they increased the volume of their chants calling for the destruction of Israel and "Long Live the Intifada".
This video was prepared by the anti-Israel group to try to present them as the victim. The person grabbing the flag is NOT Prof. Pedahzur:
This is beginning to look like the intimidation tactics that were used against Prof. Andrew Pessin at Connecticut College.
The UT Palestinian Solidarity Committee is trying to get students to file complaints against Prof. Pedahzur:
National SJP is spreading the word:
Make no mistake, the end game of the protesters is to get Prof. Pedahzur fired, as this tweet from UT student Sirat Al-Nahi indicates:
Prof. Pedahzur issued the following statement and updates on his website (font sizing and coloring in original):
Dear Friends and colleagues,
I never thought that I would find myself writing this letter. In fact, I never imagined that my academic research on terrorism and my administrative role as the Director of the Institute for Israel Studies would coincide in such a chilling way.
Less than forty eight hours after the horrific attacks in Paris, I feel that it is my responsibility to ask you to join me in an attempt to confront the radicalization process on campuses and to protect students staff and faculty members from intimidation and violence.
On Friday, November the 13th, 2015, our institute hosted Dr. Gil-Li Vardi from Stanford University who kindly accepted our invitation to present her thought provoking study on 'The Birth of the Israeli Defense Forces Military Culture'.
As any scholar and student of Israel knows, or should know Israeli scholars in the humanities and the social sciences are known for their innovative, critical and thought provoking works. Since the formation of our Institute we committed to cultivate this exact type of atmosphere.
We are very proud of the outstanding scholars who visited us and taught for us over the years. Moreover, we are committed to supporting students who come to UT to learn Arabic, one of Israel's two formal languages, in the successful Summer Institute that our colleagues Dr. Kristen Brustad and Dr. Mahmoud Al-Batal established. We hope that in the future we will be able to invite students from the Arab World to study Hebrew in the same way.
Additionally, we are working closely with Palestinian scholars in developing joint research and teaching initiatives.
On a more personal level, over the last 11 years I was teaching courses on terrorism and Israel. I have always been gratified by the fact that Arab and Muslim students took my classes and very often were among the most engaged and enthusiastic students.
Throughout the years, I never had a single incident in which a student of any faith or background expressed dissatisfaction with the contents of the courses or with the classroom's climate.
Thus, the events of the last 48 hours have been very disheartening. When I first saw a group of young men and women all wearing keffiyehsentering the seminar room and taking seats, I was delighted.
None of our numerous events have ever been interrupted. I had no reason to assume that the members of this particular group did not come to listen to the speaker and engage in an academic conversation.
Naively, I felt that we were finally achieving our goal of turning UT into a beacon of pluralistic and open debate about these contentious issues.
Little did I know.
This event required RSVPs so we could order a sufficient number of box lunches. Although these attendees did not RSVP, I invited them to eat and make themselves comfortable.
As soon as I introduced the speaker the whole group stood up as one and formed a human wall at the back of the room.
Many of them pulled out their cell phones and started recording and taking pictures.
Then their leader, who I later learned is a UT Law student named Mohammed Nabulsi, attempted to hijack the event.
It is important to pause here for a second and underscore the fact that Mr. Nabulsi's online name is Georges Abdallah, of the Lebanese Armed Revolutionary Factions who murdered American Lieutenant Colonel Charles R. Ray, and Israeli diplomat Yaakov Bar-Simantov in Paris, France in the summer of 1982.
After some more research we learned the Nabulsi was not the only member of the group who assumed the identity of a murderer online. For example Mr. Patrick Higgins, a former student in my graduate seminar, who recently completed his MA in Middle East Studies, refers to himself as Edward Despard a British officer of Irish descent, who radicalized, joined the Irish rebellion and plotted to assassinate King George III.
Back to Friday's events. Nabulsi began to read his message, while his friends stood behind him holding the Palestinian Flag. His act was disruptive and offensive.
Among many other things, he claimed that he knew everything about our speaker and referred to her as war criminal due to her service in the IDF.
At that point, I still believed that I could convince Mr. Nabulsi to calm down and engage in a constructive discussion.
However, neither he nor his followers, showed any interest in talking to us. Rather, they argued that they refuse to talk to Israelis who are all war criminals.
Mr. Nabulsi's followers seemed very agitated and started yelling 'Free Palestine' and 'Long live the Intifada'. We were left with no alternative but to call UTPD.
Meanwhile, I kept on telling them that based on their comments, they seem to know nothing about the history and politics of Israel and Palestine and I pleaded with them to stay and listen. I stood in front of Mr. Nabulsi in an attempt to make him shout directly at my face.
I didn't touch Nabulsi. Quite the contrary, his followers who surrounded him started pushing me around. A minute or two later they suddenly left.
I was asked by a police officer to describe the events and also asked if I wanted to press charges. I believed that students should enjoy the freedom to learn and shape their views. Hence, I declined. Rather, I asked the officer to invite the protesters back as I was interested in opening a channel of communication with them.
(Update: On Saturday, after learning that these individuals use the names of known terrorists online, we pressed charges. On that day someone using unknown number left a threatening message on our voicemail).
Later that evening, as the news from Paris was arriving, I received several emails indicating that the group had executed a carefully planned media campaign.
Ignoring the horrific news from France, they launched a social media blitz that was a complete lie.
Mr. Nabulsi, for example, wrote an inciting and self-serving message.
Using a heavily edited picture in which we are facing each other, he described himself as the victim and me as the aggressor.
He probably didn't stop for a second to look closely at the picture. While I seem very calm his expression is extremely aggressive and hateful.
He also failed to mention that we were surrounded by his followers who were pushing me back.
Moreover, he promised to release a video that according to his argument would prove that I escalated the situation. I assume that in order to release such a video the group needs to dedicate many hours to careful doctoring.
(Update: On Sunday, after 48 hours of editing, they released a heavily doctored video with slides that offer false description of the event. The actual footage discredits their narrative completely.)
Initially, I thought that the members of the group had a genuine interest in human rights and justice. Gradually, I realized that they are part of a group who have a long history of launching manipulative campaigns that aim at intimidating and terrorizing those who they perceive as their enemies.
What I saw was a tight group of young men and women who follow a charismatic leader who admire a notorious murderer. After spending two decades of learning how people turn to terrorism, I fear that what I witnessed on Friday should raise many red flags.
(Update: On Sunday night, after learning that their terrorist pseudonyms were unveiled, the facebook accounts went offline)
I believe in the First Amendment and in full academic freedom. However, neither the law nor its moral foundation protects coercion or direct attempts to impede freedom of speech and academic discourse.
We cannot let such individuals terrorize us.
I appeal to my friends and colleagues as well as to students and individuals who believe in freedom to stand up and counter this campaign of terror and intimidation.
Here is the Facebook post of "Georges Abdallah" which Prof. Pedahzur asserts is the online name of Mohammed Nabulsi. We cannot independently verify or not verify that. The post has been deleted, as has the account, but it was still in Google Cache for the Boycott Israel group:
Mohammed Nabulsi apparently is a law student at UT-Austin, and the driving force behind a failed anti-Israel divestment resolution last semester. Here he is at a UT-Divest forum via the UT Divest website (last person on right of photo):
And, via The Daily Texan, featured in an article about the defeat of the divestment resolution (upper right):
Here he is a counter-protest organized against an Israel Block Party event in March 2015:
And leading a protest claiming racism and Islamophobia regarding "clock boy" Ahmed Mohamed:
These are the people the anti-Israel students want contacted to complain about Prof. Pedahzur. You can contact them too and tell them to defend Prof. Pedahzur and not to give into the students who disrupted his speech:
Dean of Students:
Dean of the College of Liberal Arts:
Chair of Department of Government
You can also file a report with our Campus Climate Response Team here:
This post has been updated multiple times during the day, MORE UPDATES BELOW:
The Dean of the UT College of Liberal Arts has issued the following statement:
The University of Texas at Austin strives to be a campus where people with different viewpoints can debate issues —including the Israeli – Palestinian conflict — openly and respectfully.
Our Institute for Israel Studies has always strived to do that and, on Friday, invited an esteemed scholar to deliver remarks and engage in critical debate.
The university has existing protocols for protesters to voice their points of view and be heard effectively. We are trying to determine if they were followed in this case.
Responding to a call from the event, University Police spoke with all the parties involved on Friday. My office will do the same. We are gathering more information and looking for ways to improve the constructive dialogue on campus.
— Randy Diehl, Dean, College of Liberal Arts
The anti-Israel Electronic Intifada reports that the goal of law student Mohammed Nabulsi it to get Professor Pedahzur fired:
Nabulsi said that his group wants the university to fully investigate the incident, and that "We believe it should result in the dismissal of Ami Pedahzur as a professor at our university."
The Palestine Solidarity Committee is continuing its efforts to get people to file complaints with the university against Pedahzur:
There appears to be a growing push back against this obvious set-up by anti-Israel groups and students targeting Prof. Pedahzur.
I just received a copy of a letter signed by over 100 UT-Austin students, and sent to three senior academic officials including Dean of the College of Liberal Arts Randy Diehl, Chair of the Government Department Robert Moser, and the Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly [a similar statement is now on the Facebook page of Unify Texas]:
We write to you in support of Ami Pedahzur, a professor in the Department of Government. Professor Pedahzur has been the victim of a national campaign against his and professor Gil-li Vardi's right to academic freedom.
Many of us have never taken a class with Professor Pedahzur – but his keen understanding of freedom of speech, his diplomacy in the face of anger and intimidation, and his raw intellect make us wish we had. Faced with a disruption of an academic event, with students chanting and screaming "We want '48, not your two states," and "long live the intifada," Professor Pedahzur comported himself with dignity, something which many others would have had difficulty doing when faced with an emotional confrontation referencing calls for violence.
It often seems that some individuals and organizations on our campus believe that their freedom of speech is so absolute that it allows them to deny others that same right. We ask that you recognize this campaign against Professor Pedahzur as what it is – a stunt, to garner publicity for their organization at the expense of a dedicated professor.
A telling portion of the video comes from UT Law Student Mohammed Nabulsi, a leader in the Palestine Solidarity Committee, who shouted at the guest lecturer, "You are a former IDF soldier. We do not listen to you." This is clearly indicative of this organization and its motives. They silence all other voices in order to feed their own self-serving narrative.
In the coming days, our guess is that your office will receive many demands to punish him. We urge that you do not. We urge that you stand against those organizations on our campus which seek to provoke a response through intimidation – all so that they may take the response out of context. Standing with Professor Pedahzur is the necessary decision, and one I hope your department will make.
This is shaping up as a fight that appears to have been brewing after Palestine Solidarity Committee led by Mohammed Nabulsi lost the divestment vote last spring. We will continue to report on this.
Apparently, PSC is encouraging people to complain to a wider list of UT-Austin officials in order to get Prof. Pedahzur fired. Here is the full list, if you want to express your support for Prof. Pedahzur:
Randy Diehl, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts – email@example.com
Robert Moser, Chair of Department of Government – firstname.lastname@example.org
Soncia Reagins-Lilly, Dean of Students – email@example.com
Gage Paine, VP Student Affairs – firstname.lastname@example.org
Gregory Vincent, VP Diversity and Community Engagement – email@example.com
Patricia C. Ohlendorf, VP Legal Affairs – firstname.lastname@example.org
Gregory L. Fenves, President – email@example.com
Campus Watch contact e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org