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17 Friday, November 13, 2015, at the University of Texas, Austin: Anti-Zionists on the Attack Ami Pedahzur and Andrew Pessin In November 2015, a group of anti-Israel students loudly disrupted a lecture at the Institute for Israel Studies at the University of Texas. Ami Pedahzur, the institute’s director, allowed them a few minutes to express their hate for Israel and then pleaded with them to sit and listen to the speaker. They refused and continued their intervention, chanting for intifada, the destruction of Israel, and the dismantling of the entire institute on their campus. At one point, Pedahzur stood face to face with their leader as the latter shouted at him. Immediately after the event, the disrupters launched a social media campaign smearing Pedahzur, using heavily edited video footage to generate a false narrative of an aggressive Zionist racist professor assaulting peacefully protesting victims. The campaign went viral through anti-Israel networks, bringing worldwide calls for Pedahzur to be punished or fired, as well as threatening messages. Pedahzur endured a months-long ordeal as the university undertook an investigation. Though he was exonerated in the end, the personal and professional damage was done. No word was given on whether the disrupters were ever disciplined. Part I: The Event1 Andrew Pessin Background On Friday, November 13, 2015, the Institute for Israel Studies (IIS) at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin hosted Gil-li Vardi from Stanford University, who presented her critical study “The Birth of the Israeli Defense Force’s Military Culture.” Although the IIS has been active since 2012, none of their many previous events had ever been interrupted. Moreover, neither the university authorities nor the police had warned them that this event might be compromised. Thus, Friday, November 13, 2015, at the University of Texas, Austin | 237 when Ami Pedahzur, the director of the IIS, saw a group of young men and women wearing keffiyehs entering the seminar room and taking seats, he was delighted, anticipating a vigorous learning experience for all. He recognized one member of the group, Patrick Higgins, who had been a student in his graduate seminar in the fall of 2014. Higgins had always been polite and had never made political statements in class. It didn’t occur to Pedahzur to think these individuals were members of any particular group (in this case, the Palestine Solidarity Committee [PSC]) or that they had come for any other reason than to listen to the speaker and engage in an intellectual conversation. The event had required RSVPs so they could order a sufficient number of box lunches. Although these attendees did not RSVP, Pedahzur invited them to eat and make themselves comfortable. Friday, November 13 Noon As soon as Pedahzur introduced the speaker, the whole group stood up as one and formed a human wall at the rear of the room. Many of them pulled out their cell phones and started recording and taking pictures. Others, including Higgins, held up a Palestinian flag. Later, the leaders of the group were identified as law student Mohammed Nabulsi, graduate student Higgins, and graduate student Katie Jensen (who also teaches her own classes at UT).2 Nabulsi, apparently the main leader, announced, “We want to introduce [the speaker] as well. We are making an intervention.” He then began to read from his cell phone a statement regarding the “ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population of Palestine” and continued on to include inflammatory and derogatory remarks about the invited speaker, the IIS, and the State of Israel. (All this, and much of the disruption, can be seen in the heavily edited video that the group would release forty-eight hours later.3) As soon as the students began their disruption, a member of the audience—a military veteran who was a PhD candidate at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs—attempted to intervene in their intervention. He stood directly in front of Nabulsi repeating, “I am a scholar, and I want to hear what this speaker has to say!” At one point, he attempted to swipe Nabulsi’s phone from him, and at another, he ripped away the Palestinian flag held by one of the disrupters. This man, who was neither Israeli nor Jewish, would not be targeted later by the disrupters , who instead would go on to falsely claim that it was Pedahzur who took these actions. The campaign they would soon launch directly targeted only the Israeli Jew, Pedahzur, and the IIS itself. While...


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