Israel studies director assaults Texas students – Ali Abunimah/Electronic Intifada
Students at the University of Texas at Austin are calling for a professor to be investigated after he assaulted a group of students staging a Palestine solidarity protest.
The incident occurred just before a lecture on Friday promoting the Israeli military as an “offensive, daring, highly effective and initiative-driven army.”
The video above shows the students, members of the Palestine Solidarity Committee, attempting to make a protest statement.
One man assaults them, while another, Professor Ami Pedahzur, director of the Institute for Israel Studies, aggressively confronts them, at one point pushing his face up to one of the students, before being restrained.
Since the incident, Pedahzur has tried to link the students to Friday’s attacks in Paris that killed more than 120 people.
The video released by the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) states that the group has made similar short disruptions at other campus events, though without ever receiving this kind of reaction.
Mohammed Nabulsi, a second-year law student and PSC organizer, told The Electronic Intifada that a dozen members of his group planned to read a brief statement explaining their view that the event would whitewash the Israeli army’s history of ethnic cleansing in Palestine. They then planned to walk out immediately in protest.
When the speaker, Stanford University historian Gil-li Vardi, was introduced, activists stood up, Nabulsi said.
“I said that I would like to also introduce the event where I would make reference to my family’s experience of ethnic cleansing at the hands of Zionist militias,” Nabulsi told The Electronic Intifada.
“I was prevented from making my statement by a gentleman who increasingly encroached upon me, yelling in my face, attempting to grab my phone, and making physical contact,” he added.
Nabulsi said other members of his group who were standing behind him holding a Palestinian flag, told the man not to touch Nabulsi.
The man then “approached my younger sister and asked her in an aggressive tone what she was planning to do about it,” Nabulsi said. “He then proceeded to rip the flag from the hands of our members.”
The man who grabbed the flag has since been identified as James Hasik, a weapons industry contractor, graduate student at the University of Texas and fellow at the Atlantic Council.
“The professor who put on the event, Ami Pedahzur, then proceeded to walk across the room, mocking and belittling us,” Nabulsi added.
In the video Pedahzur can be heard saying, “You are students. You know nothing.”
As the confrontation escalated, the video shows some of the students calling out, “Free, free Palestine” and “Long live the intifada.”
Pedahzur pushed his face into Nabulsi’s, nose to nose. “He had to be pulled off of me by multiple non-PSC attendees of the event,” Nabulsi said.
Having made their point, and not seeking further escalation, the group left the seminar room, Nabulsi said.
He added that university police detained members of the group for approximately 40 minutes, taking their IDs and statements.
Nabulsi said that one member of the organization, a recent graduate of the university, received a warning for criminal trespass even though the event was public.
Pedahzur has tried to directly link Friday’s protest to the massacres in Paris and has accused students who took part of identifying with “terrorists.”
“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,” Pedahzur wrote on his personal website and at his institute’s official website.
“Less than 48 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,” he added.
Pedahzur accused Nabulsi of attempting to “hijack” the event and claimed that he was assaulted by the students.
But video shows that it was Hasik who grabbed the flag and initiated physical confrontations with the students.
The prominent anti-Palestinian blogger, Cornell University law professor William Jacobson, published a post about the incident, accusing the students of “intimidation tactics” as part of an alleged broader campaign against pro-Israel speakers.
Call for investigation
Pedahzur’s statement – updated multiple times since Friday – contains “several falsehoods that we feel are apparent in the video we released,” Nabulsi said.
He added that students feel unsafe on a campus where a professor can “intimidate and assault students without repercussions” and then defame them on an institutional website.
“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,” Randy Diehl, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, said in a statement sent to The Electronic Intifada.
“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,” Diehl added.
He confirmed that university police “spoke with all the parties” on Friday and said his office would do the same.
“We are gathering more information and looking for ways to improve the constructive dialogue on campus,” Diehl said.
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.”
“How would the University of Texas respond if the roles were reversed,” Nabulsi asked, “If it were a Palestinian professor and an Israeli student?”