Chanting "Long live the Intifada," University of Texas at Austin activists recently stormed a class to protest and disrupt a talk by a guest lecturer.
Waving Palestinian flags and shouting anti-Israel epithets, twelve members of the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) entered the public event, sponsored by Institute for Israeli Studies Professor Ami Pedahzur and hosting Stanford University military historian Dr. Gil-Li Vardi.
Throughout the incident — during which Pedahzur insisted that the invasive students either "sit down and learn something" or leave — the PSC activists filmed everything on their cellphone cameras.
Since that episode, which took place on Friday, November 13, mere hours before Paris was brutally attacked by ISIS terrorists, Pedahzur, professor of government and founding director of the Institute for Israel Studies, has become the focus of a PSC intimidation campaign. This includes a petition circulated by the PSC and claims that Pedahzur was violent.
"We were met with physical force and intimidation," the PSC said in a statement.
A UT Austin professor as well as an attendee escalated what was supposed to be a reading of a prepared two-minute statement, culminating in professor Ami Pedahzur physically pressing his body against a PSC member, nose-to-nose in a move to physically intimidate the student. Pedahzur had to be restrained by 3 people.
Watching the video of the episode, which was uploaded to YouTube by PSC members immediately after they crashed the event, one gets a sense of the menacing nature of the demonstration — on the part of the students, not those trying to subdue them.
In an exclusive interview with The Algemeiner on Tuesday, Pedahzur described the incident, the first of its kind he says he has experienced in his career — as professor of government, the Arnold S. Chaplik Professor in Israel and Diaspora Studies and founding director of the Institute for Israel Studies — and the ongoing nightmare he is now living as a result of it. Wearing a disguise on campus and fearing for the safety of his family and students says it in a nutshell.
"Along with the PSC petition smearing my name and accusing me of inappropriate behavior, I've received death threats," Pedhazur said. "But no one at the university has offered to protect me or my students. That is why I went to the police last Monday to request protection for my class — titled 'Suicide Terror' — which is in a basement, so in an emergency situation, it would be very hard to evacuate 95 students. I couldn't take the chance that because of my name, someone would try to do away with a 'Zionist professor.'"
The first course of action Pedhazur took was to vacate the offices at the Israeli Studies Institute, and, he said, "Police gave us recommendations on how to secure the facility, so as not to put anybody at risk."
What the university did in the immediate aftermath of the incident was to instruct Pedahzur to defer all requests from journalists to its public affairs department. Pedahzur's silence "gave the groups the opportunity to smear me. The whole field was open to them."
In addition, he said, "I read press releases about the intention of these students to press charges against me. So I hired a lawyer." (It was his attorney's permission that enabled this interview.)
It was not until 10 days after the event that the university offered an official response. On November 23, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts Randy Diehl issued the following statement, which was also sent to The Algemeiner, following a request to speak to Pedahzur:
Amidst the current controversy concerning the disruption of an academic lecture sponsored by the Institute for Israel Studies, I want to reiterate my deep admiration for the work of Professor Ami Pedahzur and the Institute for Israel Studies in conducting courses and public programming that represent the highest standard of academic discourse and dispassionate reasoning and research on a controversial subject of enormous importance. Students and faculty of every background, including Palestinians and Israelis alike, have enthusiastically received Prof. Pedahzur's courses and his supervision of undergraduate and graduate research.
Although reviews are still ongoing, I wish to emphasize that there are places on campus for responsibly discussing disagreements. Disruption of a visiting scholar's invited academic lecture violates principles of academic freedom and free speech that are crucial to our mission as a great university.
Asked why this particular lecture, open to the public and titled, "The Origin of a Species: The Birth of the Israeli Defense Forces' Military Culture," sparked particular outrage, Pedahzur said that it was "completely orchestrated" anger and part of a nationwide campaign.
"It was a targeted opportunity; it was entrapment," Pedahzur said. "We at the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies have never had a single problem since we started the program in 2007. But last week's episode, based on what I've heard, was an attempt by different groups to attach themselves to a larger movement that has been afflicting campuses, such as Mizzou [University of Missouri]."
Pedahzur, an Israeli who has been in the US for 12 years, pointed to the fact, for example, that the PSC students "didn't say a word about the news from Paris that same night. These rioters said nothing on Facebook nor condemned the attacks. They call themselves 'Palestinian,' but most of them don't even speak Arabic, other than what they've learned in language classes at the university. Most of them are not even Muslims; they're American kids that don't have anything to do with Islam."
But, he added, "I am going to do whatever I can as a researcher to find out who is behind this group," whose leader has openly called on people to rally behind Hamas, Islamic jihad and other groups against the Palestinian Authority, which he views as 'collaborators' with Israel.
Pedahzur also laughed bitterly at the notion that the students in question, while defaming his character, are claiming to be the ones who are living in fear. "Really? Who, exactly, are they afraid of? Kids at Hillel House?"