KSU professor’s letter sparks outrage

Matt Merchant

A letter written and published by Kent State professor Julio Pino places blame for Palestinian deaths on scholars of an academic website.

“I hold you directly responsible for the murder of over 1,400 Palestinian children, women and elderly civilians over the past month,” Pino, a tenured associate history professor, said in the Aug. 2 letter. “Your names are scrawled on every bullet fired, bomb dropped, body buried and burnt forehead in Gaza.”

Published on the academic website History News Network, a project through George Mason University in Washington state, the letter accuses the organization of being aligned with “a regime that is the spiritual heir to Nazism.”

Pino ended his letter with the phrase “Jihad until victory.” Jihad, as defined by Webster’s dictionary, refers to the Muslim war or struggle against unbelievers.

Pino is widely known for shouting “death to Israel” at a 2011 public event on Kent State’s campus at which the speaker was Ishmael Khaldi, Israel’s former deputy consul in San Francisco.

Then-university President Lester Lefton, in a public statement, called Pino’s outburst during a question and answer session as “deplorable,” “reprehensible” and “deeply troubling.”

Preceding his 2011 outburst, Pino was accused of and linked to contributing to the Jihadist news blog “Global War” in 2007.

The university released a statement on Aug. 4 condemning Pino’s statement as “reprehensible and irresponsible.”

“At Kent State, we value collegiality and mutual respect. Assailing the public with broad statements of culpability violates these principles,” the statement said.

Pino’s letter has also drawn responses from student religious and advocacy groups across campus.

“We equally condemn, in no uncertain terms, the misguided and hateful rhetoric used by many would-be ‘allies’ of the Palestinian people worldwide,” said Student for Justice in Palestine in a letter to the editor of Kentwired. “Chief among these offenders is Dr. Julio Pino, whose high-profile ravings have caused massive setbacks in the desperately needed dialogue around the issues of human rights and social justice in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This crisis will not be resolved by ideologues, hatemongers or jihadists.”

Students for Justice in Palestine is a student organization that formed with the  goal “the strengthening of public consciousness of the plight of the Palestinians and the deep injustice they endure day by day.”

“As students sympathetic to the suffering and exploitation of all people, we oppose the actions of the Israeli government and the specific structure of the Israeli state that oppresses, marginalizes and discriminates against Palestinians,” reads the letter. “We do not wish death to the people of Israel or anyone else; it is the actions of the Israeli state that we are against.”

Jennifer Chestnut, executive director for Hillel at Kent State, issued a statement through the Hillel e-newsletter on Aug. 8 commending the university for its “strong statement in speaking up against this vile hate speech in order to uphold the integrity of our academic institution.”

“(Pino’s) reprehensible comments harm our university and create a divisive and harmful atmosphere for the students and the entire Kent State community by creating a toxic environment which is closed to the to free exchange of ideas,” Chestnut said.

Pino’s letter on History New Network also got the attention of senior history major Kayla Morrison. Morrison, president of Ahavat Israel, formerly Golden Flashes for Israel, published an open letter on Aug. 5 to Kent State administration and students on the website Buzzfeed.

“It’s truly a shame that such a great university – and, now, my home – fosters a deplorable person within its academic infrastructure and permits him to educate young adults,” Morrison’s letter reads. “Pino threatens the integrity and values of Kent State University…”

Morrison said in a phone interview that she chose to publish her letter on Buzzfeed in hopes that her fellow students would share it on social media and word would eventually reach the administration. She said that she simply laid out the facts about Pino for people to read and reference.

“You can’t dispute the facts, and I make that very clear,” Morrison said. “At the end I asked people to question their values. I didn’t put a specific call to action; I didn’t say you should email him. I just wanted people to be aware of the situation and to know what is going on.”

Morrison, who does not identify as either Israeli or Palestinian, said she wrote and published the letter independently from Ahavat Israel, but recognized that her fellow group members share similar opinions. She also recognizes that Pino was exercising his rights to free speech, something she said could be borderline hate speech.

“There is a fundamental difference, I think, between exercising your First Amendment free speech rights and having academic freedom versus pledging jihad to other people,” Morrison said. “Calling for the death of other people, saying things that are going to incite violent act against other people, celebrating death and advocating for murder, I feel is fundamentally different, irresponsible and unacceptable with the position that he is in as a tenured professor. It crosses a line.”

Pino submitted a letter to the editor of Kentwired.com on Aug. 8 addressed to children in Gaza.

“Forgive me, sister, if words are all I have to offer you today. At home I am accused of stirring hatred, promoting terrorism and maliciously accusing those who seek to harm you,” the letter reads. “My anger is only for the Evil Minded, and my sole purpose is to enrage the Good Ones of these United States to assemble in order to save you.”

Matt Merchant is the summer editor for The Kent Stater and Kentwired.com. Contact him at [email protected].