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March 10, 2016 3:00 pm

U of Texas Exonerates Prof Who Prevented ‘Palestine Solidarity Committee’ Students From Disrupting Israeli Guest Lecturer

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University of Texas at Austin Prof. Ami Pedazhur. Photo: UT website

University of Texas at Austin Prof. Ami Pedazhur. Photo: UT website

Four months after a student group disrupted a lecture by a professor with an Israeli background, the University of Texas at Austin (UT) has completed its investigation of the incident, The Algemeiner has learned.

According to a summary released by the university, the investigation has exonerated Ami Pedazhur, founding director of UT’s Institute for Israel Studies, who confronted the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) students and was accused by them of having behaved violently and inappropriately.

The investigation concluded that Pedazhur had not violated any university rules or policies. The UT President also issued a statement of strong support for him.

According to the summary, the university

found that [Prof. Pedazhur] … did not violate the university’s Nondiscrimination Policy and did not engage in harassment of the student organization.

Allegations that Pedhazur had done these things arose after the original Nov. 13 incident, reported at the time by The Algemeiner. The Israel Studies program was hosting a lecture by Stanford Prof. Gil-Li Vardi, an Israeli, when students from UT-Austin’s PSC stood up, began shouting for the destruction of Israel and waving Palestinian flags, and repeatedly chanted “Long Live the Intifada!” Pedazhur attempted to calm the disruption, urging the students to either “sit down and learn something” or leave. Afterwards the students claimed that Pedazhur had exercised physical force and intimidation against them, and released edited video footage suggesting that Pedazhur had initiated a physical confrontation.

Later, the blog Legal Insurrection obtained unedited video showing that Pedazhur had not initiated any such confrontation, but instead repeatedly urged the students to stay and listen.

The PSC students, led by law student Mohammed Nabulsi and former graduate student Patrick Higgins among others, subsequently hired legal counsel to file a discrimination complaint against Pedazhur with the university. Although the details were not made public, the basis for the complaint, according to public comments by the students, were allegations that Pedazhur had referred to them as “terrorists.”

Nabulsi, for example, posted this on Facebook after yesterday’s announcement:

Today, the University of Texas released a statement backing a report issued by the Office for Inclusion and Equity (OIE) stating that this professor’s decision to vilify me and my Arab and Muslim comrades as “terrorists” … was not discriminatory. In so many words and in a move to blame the victim, the OIE stated that the professor’s decision to describe us as “red flags” for “terrorism” was motivated by our actions or decisions alone.

Not only that, but the President of this University took it upon himself to reaffirm his support for the professor in question. In doing so, President Fenves sent a clear message to Muslim and Arab activists on this campus: when it suits our interests, we will throw you to the dogs.

As Pedazhur told The Algemeiner in an exclusive interview last November, Nabulsi 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. According to Legal Insurrection, further, Pedazhur also discovered that both Nabulsi and Higgins use online pseudonyms of known terrorists. Moreover, Legal Insurrection noted, PSC’s chants in support of intifada, directed at Israelis at a time when Palestinian knife attacks against Jewish Israelis are occurring daily, “reasonably could have been viewed as an attempt to intimidate, at best, or a threat, at worst.”

UT President Gregory Fenves released this statement yesterday:

Now that the provost has accepted the findings of the OIE report, I want to express my strong support for Professor Ami Pedahzur.

Over many years, Dr. Pedahzur has fostered open, responsible dialogue, often on contentious political issues, including those involving Israel. He is known for working in a constructive and proactive manner with people from across the political spectrum. Dr. Pedahzur hosts speakers representing a wide range of views to foster in-depth inquiry. His classes attract students from diverse backgrounds. I look forward to Dr. Pedahzur’s many future contributions in teaching, scholarship, and public service at UT.

Free discourse is vital to The University of Texas … Yet free speech also carries with it responsibility. The expression of free speech is not a license to drown out the speech of others, or to shout down ideas one disagrees with.

The Algemeiner reached out to Prof. Pedazhur, whose attorney, Carly Gammill of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), provided the following statement:

Dr. Pedahzur is pleased that the University’s investigative process has resolved this situation correctly in his favor, and that the baseless complaint filed against him has been dismissed.

As Jewish and Israeli members of campus communities are increasingly finding themselves the targets of calculated campaigns of intimidation, it is imperative that administrators not allow such tactics to prevail. We applaud the University of Texas for its thoroughness in this investigation and for refusing to bend to the will of those who would attempt to harm the campus community through their false accusations.

As for the student disrupters, The Algemeiner was informed by UT that federal law prohibits the university from discussing disciplinary proceedings with respect to students.

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