UT Reviews Altercation at Israel Studies Lecture

Editor’s Note: On Nov. 23, College of Liberal Arts Dean Randy Diehl released a statement saying the investigation is still ongoing and voicing measured support for Ami Pedahzur. “I wish to emphasize that there are places on campus for responsibly discussing disagreements,” Diehl said. “Disruption of a visiting scholar’s invited academic lecture violates principles of academic freedom and free speech that are crucial to our mission as a great university.”

UT officials are reviewing a Nov. 13 altercation between student protestors and faculty at a public event hosted by the university’s Institute for Israel Studies.

Stanford history professor Gil-li Vardi was to give a lecture titled “The Origin of a Species: The Birth of the Israeli Defense Forces’ Military Culture” at the Friday event, which was held at noon in L. Theo Bellmont Hall. Before Vardi began speaking, however, a group of students from the Palestinian Solidarity Committee interrupted the event. A shouting match ensued, and what happened next depends on whom you ask.

The Palestinian group posted a video clip—which appears to be edited—showing UT professor Ami Pedahzur, who organized the event, standing in uncomfortably close proximity to the students, while another attendee* is shown pulling a Palestinian flag out of a student’s hands:

The professors called university police, but no arrests were made. UT Law student Mohammad Nabulsi says he was assaulted, a claim that Pedahzur refuted in a letter posted to his Facebook page. “I stood in front of Mr. Nabulsi in an attempt to make him shout directly at my face,” Pedahzur wrote. “I didn’t touch Nabulsi. Quite the contrary, his followers who surrounded him started pushing me around.”

Nabulsi told the Daily Texan that he has filed a complaint with the university. “What we’re trying to do is ensure our safety,” he said.

The Texas Tribune, the Austin American-Statesman, and the Washington Post are among the media outlets that have picked up the story.

In a statement Tuesday evening, UT president Greg Fenves said that staff with the Office of the Dean of Students and the College of Liberal Arts are conducting interviews to learn more about what happened. “The University of Texas at Austin strongly defends and supports free speech for all members of the university community,” Fenves said. “We will be guided by those values as we review the recent events.”

*Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the person who grabbed the Palestinian flag as a professor. He is not a UT or visiting professor.


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