University investigates confrontation at Israel Studies lecture

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Photo Credit: Caleb Kuntz | Daily Texan Staff

The University is reviewing a confrontation that occurred Friday between members of the Palestine Solidarity Committee and a professor and unidentified attendee at an Institute for Israel Studies event, UT President Gregory Fenves said Tuesday.

Following the lecture, the committee posted a video of the occurrence online which shows the committee protesting and then being confronted by the director of the Institute, Ami Pedahzur, who is also a government professor. In the video, committee organizer and law student Mohammed Nabulsi spoke in protest against the institute’s event “The Birth of the Israeli Defense Forces’ Military Culture.”

“We want to talk about the fact that the Center for Israeli Studies exists on our campus to whitewash the state of Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people,” Nabulsi said in the video.

The video shows an unidentified attendee confronting the protesters, then taking a Palestinian flag from the hands of the students. Following this incident, Pedahzur also confronted the protesters and is heard saying, “You are students, you know nothing.”

The committee members said in a Facebook post they were planning on making a two-minute statement and leaving, which the committee has done before at past UT events. The video also claims that the students were physically intimidated by the professor and one other graduate student at the event. The video has since gone viral on social media.

Fenves said the university has received several complaints, and the Office of the Dean of Students and the College of Liberal Arts have started interviewing students, faculty and staff.

The Palestine Solidarity Committee has also filed a formal complaint with the University and has hired a lawyer, according to Nabulsi.

Fenves said at a press conference Tuesday that the university will be guided by the values of free speech, although he said he does not think any disruption is constructive.

“What is important to me is that the university is a place where free speech is a fundamental value,” Fenves said. “We are taking the allegations seriously and looking into them very thoroughly.”

Pedahzur said on his blog Monday that the event required RSVPs and he felt compelled to call UTPD because they were “very agitated and started yelling ‘Free Palestine’ and ‘Long live the Intifada’.”

Intifada, a term that literally translates to shaking off, refers to Palestinian uprisings that sought Palestinian independence.

Pedahzur said he did not touch Nabulsi and that the other committee members instead pushed Pedahzur around.

Pedahzur also said in the blog that he believes Nabulsi and another graduate student use the names of known terrorists as monikers online. Nabulsi said the committee is also filing a complaint about the accusation.

“We’ve filed formal complaints with the University regarding both the actions at the event and the statement online. What we’re trying to do is ensure our safety,” Nabulsi said.

Nabulsi said the blog post will only cause negative attitudes toward Muslim students on campus, especially following Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris that left more 130 people dead. The terrorist organization ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks.  

“This comes at a particularly heightened moment given the tragic events in Paris,” Nabulsi said. “His comment is not only bigoted and hateful, but it also endangers the lives of Muslim students on our campus.”  

Pedahzur declined to comment and referred the reporter to the office of the College of Liberal Arts.

Randy Diehl, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, said in a statement that the Israeli Studies program strives to be a platform to debate issues including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Diehl said his office is in the process of speaking to all parties involved and determining whether protocol for on-campus protesting was followed.

“The University has existing protocols for protesters to voice their points of view and be heard effectively,” Diehl said in a statement. “We are trying to determine if they were followed in this case … We are gathering more information and looking for ways to improve the constructive dialogue on campus.”

UTPD spokesperson Cindy Posey said the police received a call about a disturbance, and the committee members were asked to stay for questioning. The matter is no longer under UTPD investigation and is now being looked into by the Dean of Students’ office, according to Posey.

“It was determined that no criminal charges were apparent on either side, and the matter was passed on to the Dean of Students’ office,” Posey said.

Editor's note: This story has been updated since it's original publication as the article underwent editing for production. This article was also updated to clarify Ami Pedahzur's position and to clarify that the reporter contacted Pedahzur in the initial reporting.