Professor must be held accountable for islamophobic comments

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Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

The University has gained national attention again, this time for a physical altercation between Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) members non-violently protesting a public event, and Ami Pedahzur, the director of the Institute for Israeli Studies. The incident resulted in a campaign by PSC for the University to hold the aggressing parties accountable and is currently under review by the offices of Institutional Equity and Compliance Services.

The videos, taken by protesters, show us a few things: First, the main protester’s hand was pushed away by an audience member who is a graduate fellow at the LBJ school as he tried to read a statement. Second, professor Pedahzur mocked the students as they were attacked. Third, the protesters said they would not prevent the presenter from speaking after making their statement. And fourth, Pedahzur was held back after aggressively advancing toward and making contact with the protester attempting to read the statement.

The PSC claimed the event glorified the Israeli Defense Forces, an institution accused of collective punishment, a slew of war crimes and violations of international law by organizations such as the United Nations and Amnesty International. An event allegedly praising its army will naturally be criticized, and PSC has the right to protest a public event.

The fact that these non-violent protesters were met with excessive aggression, and professor Pedahzur belittled them as they asked the first aggressor not to touch them, is horrifying. The most troubling part of the saga, though, was not that Pedahzur allowed this to happen, before becoming hostile himself — it’s that he likened them to last week’s Paris terrorists in a personal statement released after the event.

“Less than forty eight 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,” Pedahzur wrote in a statement.

After comparing their non-violent protest to terrorism, he published the name, Facebook and academic information of the student attempting to read their statement at the event, and referred to his efforts as an attempt to “hijack” and “terrorize.”

This is more than careless and unprofessional behavior from Pedahzur — it’s putting the Palestinian students in danger and making them accessible targets for further violence.

As the Palestinian students and their supporters spread news of the event to put pressure on the administration to take action, they were met with unabashed racism, as shown in this tweet. Calls for genocide, death threats, and taunts telling young students to go back to the Middle East are all examples of the type of racism and hatred that were fueled by Pedahzur’s belligerent statement.

The threats are not to be dismissed, either. Days after the attack in Paris, a Muslim woman was pushed in front of a train, mosques near campus were vandalized, refugee camps suspiciously caught fire and mosques were burned down. The danger for Arab and Muslim students is tangible and nearer than ever.

Pedahzur fueled these fires with his actions and comments. He defamed Palestinian students, whose families have been killed or made into refugees by Israeli forces. He weaponized his scholarship to criminalize the innocent students he was hired to educate. There is no excuse for Pedahzur’s islamophobic actions. He has no place continuing at this University, without proper repercussions.

Pedahzur’s statement also said, “After spending two decades of learning how people turn to terrorism, I fear that what I witnessed on Friday should raise many red flags.”

This shameless, ridiculous and aggressive claim is no less a degree of bullying than what Arab and Muslim children and adults face across the world, harassed and assaulted for their identity, targeted for the language they speak and the way they pray. This is not how a professor should be allowed to act.

If the University chooses to be complacent and refuses to take action against Pedahzur’s islamophobic comments, they will not only send the message to faculty members that this behavior is tolerated — they will show that this institution supports the hatred. It shows the Palestinian students and their allies, who were exercising their right to free speech, that they are not valued by the institution they attend. And that is unacceptable.

Hamze is an international relations and global studies junior from Austin. You can follow him on Twitter @adamhamz.