The publicity surrounding the disruption of an Israel Studies event at the University of Texas at Austin by the UT-Austin Palestine Solidarity Committee continues to escalate, with local media in Texas taking up the story.
For full background, see my prior posts, Anti-Israel students target UT-Austin Israeli Studies prof after disrupting his speech and New Video supports UT-Austin Israeli Studies Prof. after confrontion by protesters.
The lead protester, law student Mohammed Nabulsi, led the failed divestment from Israel effort last spring, and is a leader of the anti-Israel campus movement. (More on that in a later post.)
Nabulsi also appears to be media-savvy, as he released an edited video purporting to present the protesters as the victims, and now pre-emptively has filed a complaint (along with other student protesters) with the university claiming the protesters' rights were violated. (I requested a copy of the complaint from UT, but have not yet received it.)
[UT-Austin anti-Israel protesters with Attorney Brian McGiverin]
Seriously, the people who disrupted the event and screamed arguably-threatening chants for an Intifada toward Israelis present in the room now claim their rights were violated. The American-Statesman reports:
Members of a University of Texas Palestinian student group filed a formal civil rights complaint on Tuesday with UT officials after they say a professor strongly suggested one of them was a terrorist....
The group's complaint filed Tuesday, addressed to UT's offices of Institutional Equity and Compliance Services, draws attention to a letter Pedahzur posted after the incident on a university website, which was later removed.
The complaint accuses Pedahzur of illegally releasing Nabulsi's name and unfairly linking the group's actions to the terrorist attacks in Paris.
"Less than forty eight hours after horrific attacks in Paris, I feel that 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," a copy of Pedahzur's letter posted on his Facebook account says.
"After spending two decades of learning how people turn to terrorism, I fear that what I witnessed on Friday should raise many red flags...We cannot let such individuals terrorize us," Pedahzur wrote....
At a press conference on Tuesday, [UT law student Mohammed] Nabulsi said Pedahzur had "defamed my character and insinuated that my political expressions are red flags for terrorism."
"At a moment when anti-Muslim, anti-Arab sentiment is at a high, not only are his statements bigoted and hateful, but they have also endangered Muslim and Arab students on this campus, affecting our right to an education free from discrimination." ...
Nabulsi's accusations are not supported by the very text on which he relies or by the edited video, which shows Nabulsi leading a disruption of the event, refusing requests to stop, and shouting at others.
Nabulsi and the group also led a chant which reasonably could be construed — particularly by Israelis in the room — as threatening: "Long Live the Intifada."
The Intifada, as everyone knows, is a term applied to the violent and bloody attacks by Palestinians. The Second Intifada featured suicide and other bombings of civilians, and the current Knife Intifada features stabbings.
While some student protesters claim the term is used only generically to refer to an uprising, in the context of an abusive disruption of an Israel Studies event and the current Knife Intifada, claims of a generic use of the term are of questionable credibility.
The university also will need to carefully review the edited video released by PSC, and obtain the full unedited videos. Prof. Pedahzur has asserted that the edited video leaves out aggressive physical conduct by the protesters.
I took that edited video released by PSC, and pulled out some excerpts focusing on Nabulsi's conduct:
(added) PSC also has launched a GoFundMe page to raise money for legal action against Prof. Pedahzur:
....PSC is seeking to take legal action against professor Pedahzur for his illegal actions against students whose only desire was to share their point of view. A freedom and right guaranteed to them by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States but denied to them by an aggressive professor. Funds raised will go towards seeking legal help in protecting our students and seeking justice for the unfortunate events that transpired as a result of Professor Pedahzur's actions.
While the student protesters have been quick to allege a violation of their rights, the question fairly is asked whether the disruption of the event was a violation of campus policy.
Lori Lowenthal Marcus at The Jewish Press examines this issue and finds several campus policies that may come into play:
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 function of the university including "berating or otherwise abusive behavior."
(added) Law Professor David Bernstein, writing at The Washington Post, writes:
The PSC, ironically, is circulating an (edited) video of the disruption, somehow believing that the end result is that Pedahzur should be punished .... Give them points for chutzpah, at least. But in fact, the video, even in its edited version, should be enough for University of Texas to suspend the lot of protesters, Nabulsi in particular.
UT-Austin has released the following statement:
The University of Texas at Austin is reviewing last Friday's confrontation and the subsequent social media postings surrounding an event sponsored by our Institute for Israel Studies.
The Office of the Dean of Students and the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts have begun interviewing students, faculty and staff and are reviewing the incident to determine whether members of the university community violated any university rules. University police, after responding to a call from the event, determined that none of the actions at the event rose to the level of a criminal offense.
The Office of Institutional Equity, which investigates and seeks to resolve allegations of discrimination, harassment and retaliation on campus, will closely review any allegations it receives.
"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."
Enforcing campus codes against those disrupting events takes on added importance given the rise in very aggressive and often hostile conduct by anti-Israel protesters on campuses. Universities cannot afford to wait until aggressive behavior turns violent.
We'll see if the anti-Israel students' preemptive media move will work, or whether the university will enforce its student code.