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General Articles
Ami Pedahzur: Intimidated and Harassed


Editorial Note

Ami Pedahzur, a professor in the department of Government and the head of the Institute of Israel Studies at the University of Texas, got into a trouble when a group of pro-Palestinian activists tried to disrupt his seminar hosting Dr. Gil-Li Vardi.   The activists marched in the classroom describing it as an “intervention.”   

Pedahzur seems to be genuinely puzzled that his Institute should be targeted and, more to the point, that in spite of his efforts, the group was unwilling to engage in a dialogue, as befits an academic setting.  He described the encounter in a Facebook post (see below).  Upon further investigation, Pedahzur learned that the activists were professional provocateurs.  As we recently reported, disrupting Israeli professors or lectures with Israeli themes have become a popular form of “protest” against the “Zionist enemy.”  Acting for Pedahzur, Kenneth Marcus, the head of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law (LDB) wrote to the UT authorities"The brazen efforts of the Palestine Solidarity Committee to silence Dr. Pedahzur and Dr. Vardi not only violate basic civility norms but, more troublingly, also represent a threat to academic freedom and the freedom of speech."

But, as the article in the Jewish Press notes, the pro-Palestinian group crafted their own complaint against Pedahzur. They accuse him of creating a physical altercation and demand his firing.  In support of their claim, they posted a video of the entire encounter showing Pedahzur getting face to face with the leader of the “intervention.”  

In response to the brouhaha, the university responded that it is “investigating” the case. IAM would provide updates.

November 15, 2015
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 keffiyehs entering 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. 
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.
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.
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.
Ami Pedahzur

November 18, 2015

Students Want UT Prof Fired for Disrupting Their Anti-Israel Disruption [video]

Lori Lowenthal Marcus

Of all the ugliness swirling around American campuses this fall season, one of the ugliest by far was on display last week at the University of Texas at Austin.

UT-Austin has an Institute for Israel Studies, at which Prof. Ami Pedahzur, a scholar whose work focuses on terrorism, political radicalism and Israeli politics, is the founding director.

On Friday, Nov. 16, Pedahzur hosted a talk by visiting scholar Dr. Gil-Li Vardi, of Stanford University. Vardi was to speak about “The Origin of a Species: The Birth of the Israeli Defense Forces’ Military Culture.”

But before Vardi could begin her talk, a dozen members of the UT Palestinian Solidarity Committee stood up, unfurled a ‘Palestinian’ flag, and raucously disrupted the event. These students hijacked the lecture in order to deliver their own evaluation of the talk – before it began – and of the speaker, justifying that disruption as an “intervention.”

An intervention is the term used by psychological professionals to describe what happens when professionals and family members intervene to stop an addict’s destructive behavior.

In a video these students posted about the incident, they admit disrupting this event and others in the same manner.

The audacity of these students is stunning. They are outraged by Pedahzur’s refusal to indulge their tantrums and are now demanding that he be fired for interfering with their disruption of his event!

Watch this (doctored) video, then continue reading and see another video taken just a few minutes after this initial disruption. In particular, note what the protesting students say and what Pedahzur, imploringly, asks of them. Also note that the man who grabs away the flag from one of the protesters is a graduate student who came to hear the speaker, and is not Pedahzur.

Pedahzur repeatedly asked the students to sit down and listen to the speaker, but the leader of the group, Mohammed Nabulsi, insisted that they did not need to hear from Vardi because she had been a member of the Israeli Defense Forces.

Nabulsi is a UT law student. He was one of the organizers of an effort to pass a resolution calling on the University of Texas to divest from holdings in Israeli companies. That resolution failed. Nabulsi used the name of an infamous convicted terrorist, Georges Abdallah, who murdered diplomats from the U.S. and Israel in 1982, as an online alias in which he claims Pedahzur physically intimidated him.

The group of disruptive students made their statements and began yelling slogans such as “Free, Free Palestine,” “Long live the intifada!” and “We want 48, we don’t want 2 states.” They scuffled with Pedahzur and another scholar who was in the room and who was furious because he came to the lecture to hear Vardi.

Neither Nabulsi nor UT’s Palestinian Solidarity Committee responded to requests for interviews about the incident. The University of Texas at Austin directed us to a post on its website, which says it is “reviewing the incident.”

However, two sentences in the notice raise concerns, especially in light of university responses at other schools this year:

“The University of Texas at Austin strongly defends and supports free speech for all members of the university community. We will be guided by those values as we review the recent events,” said President Gregory L. Fenves.

“The freedom to engage in challenging conversations openly and responsibly is absolutely vital to what we do. Our students and faculty benefit from an environment that encourages this free exchange  of ideas — and in which everyone is able to both share their views and let others do the same.”

While the University is reviewing the incident, it may wish to peruse its own Student Discipline and Conduct Code.

A quick glance at UT’s Disciplinary Code reveals several ways in which the disruptors violated school rules. For example, section 11-404a3 bars any student who “behaves in a manner that impedes, interferes with, or disrupts any University teaching, research, administrative, disciplinary, public service, learning, or other authorized activity.”

Subsection 12 of UT’s Student Discipline Code bars any “conduct that is sufficiently severe, pervasive, or persistent to create an objectively hostile environment that interferes with or diminishes the ability of an individual to participate in or  benefit from the services, activities, or privileges provided by the University.”

And Subsection 22 of UT’s Student Discipline Code bars “inappropriate conduct that ha[s] the potential to interfere or disrupt the student learning or teaching func'tion of the university including “berating or otherwise abusive behavior.”

But there is still more evidence that it was the PSC students who were abusive and disruptive, and not Pedahzur whose behavior warrants criticism.

The following video, from Legal Insurrection (which has covered this unfolding event since it began), is shot from the end of the hallway outside of the classroom where the incident took place. At the beginning, you can very clearly hear the screaming of the protesters from inside the classroom, even though the door is still closed. Then the protesters leave the room, and after them trails Pedazhur, still trying to get them to come back and engage in a constructive exchange after listening to the speaker. Their response? “Free Palestine” and “Long live the intifada!”

Meanwhile, the students who disrupted the talk have spent days publicizing the event, claiming Pedahzur is the one who engaged in intimidation. They filed a civil rights complaint against Pedahzur with the university, and are urging students and others  to contact members of the UT administration.

That’s right, a group of University of Texas students interrupt a scheduled event, demand that they be heard before the speaker, repeatedly shout slogans which admit they want Israel wiped off the map, leave at their own pace, and they are the ones claiming victim status and demanding that punishment be meted out against the person whose event they hijacked.

UT’s response? Not much.

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