Will Kent State say ‘enough’?
Yet another tenured professor has abused his position to defame and attack Israel on campus without, it seems, any professional repercussions. Kent State University’s Prof. Julio Pino’s cry of “Death to Israel,” hurled at a visiting Israeli diplomat during a university forum, has made national and international news. The professor’s actions have been generally portrayed as beyond the realm of penalty and simply a matter of free speech.
CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) and several recognized student organizations sponsored a presentation by Ishmael Khaldi, an advisor to Israel’s Foreign Ministry, in which the Israeli spoke about his experience growing up as a Bedouin in Israel and rising to become a foreign diplomat.
Largely ignored in the focus on the First Amendment is the question of Kent State’s institutional regulations and enforcement of its Employee Code of Conduct as it applies to Prof. Pino’s disruptive actions and threatening statements. The code requires that every employee of the university must “demonstrate respect for all campus and external community members,” refrain from “discourteous treatment of the public,” and not “threaten, accost, demean” or use “abusive language.” If an employee violates any of these principles, the university has formal disciplinary procedures that are to be enacted.
Pino’s verbal assault on Khaldi obviously violates Kent State’s Employee Code of Conduct. The question is whether the university will take action.
Free speech expert and attorney David Hudson of The First Amendment Center has commented on the general issue of employee conduct and free speech and notes that “it is acceptable for government employers to discipline employees for speech that undermines the integrity of the office.”
The day after the event, KSU President Lester Lefton issued a statement “deploring” Pino’s invective. Lefton made clear that Pino “embarrassed” the university, which values critical thinking and encourages its students to engage with differing opinions. He added that “calling for the destruction of the state from which our guest comes (as do some of our students, faculty and community members) is a grotesque failure to model these values.”
While Lefton’s statement was commendable, no senior figure at KSU has yet indicated there will be an investigation of Pino’s violation of the Employee Code of Conduct or suggested he will be disciplined.
There are other ways in which Pino seems to have violated school conduct codes. He distributed extremist, anti-Israel material at the same Ishmael Khaldi event, thereby violating the solicitation provision in the conduct code that prohibits such activity. The materials encouraged students to boycott Israel.
This is not the first time Pino has expressed extreme anti-Israel views. In 2002, he published a eulogy in the campus paper praising Palestinian terrorist Ayat al-Akras, who murdered two Israeli civilians, teenager Rachel Levy and Chaim Smadar. Pino described the terrorist as his “beloved Sister and Martyr” and commended al-Akras for her act of “courage.” He wrote: “Even the numbskull who parades as president of the United States heard you, and, following the text written for him by his handlers, expressed astonishment at how a teenager could perpetrate such an act. Simply, it is pronounced ‘justice’ and spelled C-O-U-R-A-G-E.”
The U.S. Secret Service raided Pino’s home in 2009 amid allegations that he was operating the self-described “jihadist news service” Global War, that provided “battle dispatches, training manuals, and jihad videos to our (Muslim) brothers worldwide.” Pino admitted to contributing articles to the jihadist website.
If no meaningful penalty is imposed on Pino, the university will have, in essence, deceived students, alumni, and community members – because the publicly-posted guidelines amount to a promise that students will be able to learn in a safe setting, hold meetings, and voice their thoughts and opinions in a civil environment. Tolerating, without penalty, a violent threat uttered by a tenured professor at a student gathering – in combination with the active efforts of the same individual to damage Israel by promoting boycotts of that nation – would seem to signal outright indifference to the safety concerns of certain students.
And what does Prof. Pino have to say about all this? After refusing to give comment to several news outlets in the wake of the Ishmael Khaldi event, he broke his silence and said: “What I spoke was for the sake of the children of Palestine and no other reason. The only politics I have are: ‘There is no God but God, and Mohammed is His Messenger.’ Peace be upon you.”
His words are unlikely to comfort pro-Israel students, Jewish and Christian alike, or their parents and families – or, one assumes, conscientious university officials. Indeed, Pino’s seemingly escalating anti-Israel behavior can only be unnerving to many. And many at Kent and beyond may wonder what he will say and do next.