Meir Dagan, the former Director-General of the Israeli Mossad, gave a lecture at the LBJ School on October 14 that was ultimately remarkable not for its content, but rather the reaction it produced.
Literally translated to “The Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations”, the Mossad is the Israeli organization responsible for national intelligence collection and counter-terrorism operations. Dagan led the Mossad from 2002 to 2009 and ultimately left the organization a controversial figure. As Director-General, Dagan significantly increased the special operations carried out by the Mossad and was allegedly responsible for the deaths of several important political figures in the Middle East during his tenure. Among these include the assassination of Izz El-Deen Sheikh Khahlil, a senior member of Hamas, and a number of Iranian scientists spearheading their nation’s nuclear program. Often, Israel’s Western allies have given tacit approval to Dagan’s aggressive methods.
As such, Dagan is seen by many in the Arab world as a violent and secretive enforcer of Israeli agendas and, by extension, Western hegemony. In particular, Palestinian rights organizations consider him to be a prominent figure in the undermining of Palestinian statehood efforts and the stability of Arab countries.
Now retired from his military and intelligence career, Dagan is considered an expert on Middle East security issues. His visit to the LBJ School was intended to showcase as much. But the insight he shared, while cursory in its own right, was countered with interruption from a well- planned protest.
Dagan arrived on campus with a significant security detail in tow: in addition to several Austin Police Department canine units, no less than three Israeli security officers could be seen standing guard in the Bass Lecture Hall. With a tense air, he began his lecture, “The Middle East at a Crossroads”, by citing historical examples of violent extremism in Islamic culture. In these first few minutes, Dagan attempted to convince the audience that the emergence of modern actors such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda is not an accident, but rather the continuation of a nostalgic effort to restore the might of the Muslim world as it was in the 7th century.
In the midst of these discussions came the startling interruption. A small group of between 5 to 10 people, who had until then been quietly sitting in the middle of the auditorium, stood up simultaneously from their chairs. The awkward but clearly choreographed commotion was immediately effective as the audience re-directed its attention. Signs accusing Meir Dagan of crimes against humanity, murder among them, were quickly unfurled as the protesters began reciting their opposition.
“Everyone who is sitting here today is complicit in the murder of innocent Palestinian civilians,” a loud male voice proclaimed. The voice of this first protester was replaced by that of another, who continued to express similarly vindictive sentiments in accusation of both the audience and the former Director-General.
Not surprisingly, the security detail quickly tensed around Dagan. While the protesters continued to assail the audience, a female official toward the front of the auditorium took a microphone in an attempt to drown out the protester’s sudden interruption. She read statements, no doubt prepared in advance, proclaiming the protesters to be in violation of University of Texas Code of Conduct. The tumultuous back and forth continued for a long minute, until chants of “Free, Free Palestine” came from the protesters as they gradually, slowly filed out of the auditorium.
Dagan, a veteran of such protests, remained quiet until the brief commotion subsided. He seemed unaffected, even following along with a joke before proceeding with his lecture.
With the protest over and the auditorium returned to calm, the gravity of Dagan’s comments diminished. Dagan continued with unremarkable observations pertaining to the obvious topic: the rise of the Islamic State. Revenue sources, regional territorial ambitions, and ideology of the extremist organization were discussed, but his words were neither revealing nor compelling. The excitement and intrigue brought about by the protesters was over.
Ultimately, Dagan’s visit to the LBJ School served as proof of his continued reputation as a divisive figure from the Israeli intelligence community. In no certain terms, his legacy as an aggressive Director-General of the Mossad followed him to Texas.
Editor’s Note: The Dean of Students as well as the LBJ School and General Dagan’s security detail were made aware in advance that there would be a staged protest during the events. University protocols call for a representative from the Dean of Students to be present and upon the first disruption explain that the disruptive activities that prevent the speaker’s talk from being heard are in violation of the University’s Institutional Rules and are not permitted. She expressed to the audience, as is protocol, that the university will issue up to three warning to the audience asking the disruptive activities to stop. Upon hearing this first warning, the protestors got up out of the seats and left the auditorium. As University protocol states, If after the third warning, there is further disruption, then those disruptive persons will be escorted by UT Police from the building. That warning was not given to the protestors at General Dagan’s event.