Today, Palestine Legal sent a letter to the President of the University of Texas at Austin (UT-Austin), calling on the University to take appropriate steps to protect the rights of students to speak out in favor of Palestinian freedom.
Last month, members of the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) at UT-Austin engaged in a peaceful protest at a public event about the origin of the Israel Defense Force (IDF) organized by the Professor Ami Pedhazur, the founding director of the Institute for Israel Studies at UT-Austin. As the event was about to begin, PSC members made a brief two-minute statement denouncing the IDF for its systematic trampling of Palestinian human rights.
As a result of their peaceful protest, PSC members faced aggressive backlash. They were physically confronted, detained by police, and dangerously linked to ISIS by Prof. Pedhazur, who wrote in a statement posted on the Institute for Israel Studies at UT-Austin’s website that the students’ advocacy for Palestinian human rights raises “many red flags” about “how people turn to terrorism.” The Dean of the College of Liberal Arts also condemned the students’ peaceful protest.
Palestine Legal wrote: “When core beliefs are contested and debated, university leaders must guarantee the conditions necessary for free debate on campus, and must assure students and faculty alike that expression on matters of public concern is not only tolerated, but invited.” Peaceful dissent and protest cannot justify violent reactions and dangerous accusations by those who disagree.
The letter also documented previous incidents of suppression of PSC members’ speech, including false accusations of terrorism. “These incidents are troubling on their own, but they are not isolated. They are part of well-documented efforts to suppress Palestine activism on campuses,” said Rahul Saksena, an attorney with Palestine Legal, which recently issued a report documenting the widespread suppression of speech in favor of Palestinian rights.