On November 13, 2015, the UT-Austin Palestine Solidarity Committee disrupted an Israel Studies Dept. event hosted by Prof. Ami Pedahzur, and featuring a visiting scholar from Stanford University. They refused to either participate or leave, and instead hurled insults and chants of "Long Live the Intifada."
The PSC protesters were led by law student Mohammed Nabulsi, former graduate student Patrick Higgins, and sociology graduate student Katie Jensen. Whether they violated the UT-Austin campus code remains to be seen.
From this video obtained by Legal Insurrection taken by someone outside the room, you can hear how loud the chants were and how Prof. Pedahzur urged the students to participate, only to be met with more chants.
Smear Campaign Based on Edited Video
The night of the disruption, Nabulsi was telling people on Facebook (apparently using the name of terrorist "Georges Abdullah") about the incident and promising a video. He also used an image from the video which appeared to portray Prof. Pedahzur as the aggressor, even though it is a split second from a moving video.
It was that image which would be the centerpiece of the smear campaign against Prof. Pedahzur and would be spread on Facebook and Twitter.
And it was that edited video meant to make the protesters look like the victims that took the incident viral. The video now has over 175,000 YouTube views, and was part of a media and legal campaign against Prof. Pedahzuer, including a "civil rights" complaint filed by the students with the University.
The smear was aided and abetted by people like Glenn Greewald who tweeted an Electronic Intifada article to his 600,000+ followers, falsely accusing Prof. Pedahzur of "threaten[ing]" the students and engaging in an "assault." Note that the tweet and article use the image posted by Nabulsi the night of the incident.
Many other anti-Israel activists and groups also attacked Prof. Pedahzur, including student and aspiring journlist Adam Hamze who accused Prof. Pedahzur of "Islamophobia" in the UT-Austin student newspaper.
In fact, as many are now attesting, including the Dean of the UT-Austin College of Liberal Arts, Prof. Pedahzur was someone well-known for NOT being hostile to Muslim students or Palestinian students.
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.
In his first public post about the incident, Prof. Pedahzur expressed that he initially was happy when he saw students wearing keffiyehs enter the room:
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.
But none of that stopped the smear campaign against Prof. Pedahzur.
To the contrary, it's my theory that Prof. Pedahzur was singled out precisely because he is someone who reached across the political divide. There is no one as hated by anti-Israel activists as liberal Zionists — they are viewed with far more contempt than "right-wing" Zionists.
So when you hear law student Nabulsi tell Prof. Pedahzur in the video that "we know who you are" and "we've read your stuff," it's likely that Prof. Pedahzur wasn't simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, he was specifically targeted.
The result has been threats against the Israel Studies program and Prof. Pedahzur, as revealed in an interview with Algemeiner magazine:
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."
QUESTION – Where is the Unedited Video?
It is obvious from the video released by PSC that it is highly edited from multiple cameras operated by PSC protesters. It's not even clear that it is in sequence – it jumps back and forth.
From the start, Prof. Pedahzur has asserted that the image and video are deceptive (bold in original).
Mr. Nabulsi, for example, wrote an inciting and self-serving message. [WAJ Note: I believe this refers to the Facebook message embedded above.]
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.)
Does the actual footage discredit the PSC version?
On November 18, 2015, I emailed the lawyer for the students asking if the unedited video would be released. There was no response.
As of this date, as far as I can tell, the unedited video has not been released. Why not? What are they hiding?
Having filed a "civil rights" complaint and claiming Prof. Pedahzur deserves to be fired, certainly the students should be anxious to show that the edited video did not misrepresent events.
So why hasn't the unedited video been released?