Recovering from accusations

Since tenured economics professor John Hall accused student Zaki Bucharest of being an undercover FBI agent and provocateur during his class, white supremacy groups have threatened Bucharest’s family and he has received racist and violent harassment on his public social networking profiles.

Since tenured economics professor John Hall accused student Zaki Bucharest of being an undercover FBI agent and provocateur during his class, white supremacy groups have threatened Bucharest’s family and he has received racist and violent harassment on his public social networking profiles.

During the Jan. 14 incident, Hall, who has taught at Portland State for 24 years, veered off course during a class lecture and leveled the accusations at Bucharest. He went on to say that Bucharest is dangerous and a threat to the student body.

Friends of Bucharest and many student leaders on campus say these accusations are false. They have begun to organize a campaign to publicly defend him from the claims made by Hall.

“He’s probably one of the most intelligent, outspoken students for students’ rights, and thank god he’s on my staff,” said ASPSU President Jonathan Sanford, for whom Bucharest works as chief of staff.

Sanford stated in an open letter that on Feb. 12, members of a white supremacy group located Bucharest’s two young children in California and threatened violence against them.

Since the incident with Hall was made public, numerous racist comments threatening violence against Jewish people have been posted on a YouTube account presumed to belong to Bucharest, though he denies that the account belongs to him but rather to a person he knows.

“I am deeply concerned by the reports of anti-Semitism that have been leveled at my good friend, Zaki Bucharest. I hope that the administration is taking this case very seriously because of the intensity of threats and hate filled words,” said Rudy Soto, former ASPSU president, a current student at PSU and candidate for City Council.

Support from within
A letter released in mid-February signed by ASPSU leaders, other student leaders and friends of Bucharest reads: “Having worked closely with Bucharest professionally and personally, I can testify that he is not a dangerous agent provocateur, nor is he employed by any federal or private mercenary agency.”

Hall went on in the lecture to accuse Bucharest, a 30-year-old economics student who has been at PSU since 2006, of trying to organize students to participate in violent acts against the university. Bucharest says he doesn’t know why Hall made these accusations, though he often spent time with Hall during his office hours, according to Hall.

On Tuesday, Jan. 19, Randall Bluffstone, Economics Department chair, Mary Beth Collins, director of Student Health and Counseling, and Carol Mack, vice provost for Academic Administration and Planning, met with Hall’s class.

Hall was not present at the meeting and has since been placed on paid suspension, pending investigation.

The man himself
During the Jan. 19 meeting, students claimed that Bucharest carries a gun, echoing a claim made by Hall during the incident.

Bucharest said he does hold a concealed weapons permit and has told other students about it.

When asked how the incident is affecting him, Bucharest said “I’m devastated. It was very unexpected and I do not wish an experience like this upon other students.”

 During the lecture, Hall also said Bucharest was a killer and is a threat to fellow students, and cited Bucharest’s time spent as a sniper in the Israeli armed forces.

Bucharest said he holds dual U.S. and Israeli citizenship and was thus drafted at age 18 into Israel’s military, as are all Israeli men and women.

The letter from student leaders also reads: “It is true that Bucharest has a long history with the U.S. and Israeli military. That he does not deny…he abdicated his Israeli citizenship last year so that he could leave the military.”

Bucharest has spent time living in New York but said he moved to Oregon because his parents live here. He is multilingual and began his time at PSU taking foreign language classes. He soon decided to continue attending as a full-time student.

Bucharest said he chose to study economics because “it’s a beautiful subject involving much more thought than just supply and demand charts and orthodox theory.”

He was the treasurer of the Student Veterans Association for several years before beginning his work with ASPSU.

“I view it as a position to manage the staff and in developing new and better ideas [as to] how the student body government functions,” he said of his job with ASPSU.

Moving forward
On Wednesday, Feb. 24, Sanford organized a public meeting and invited those close to Bucharest to attend. The group decided to launch a media blitz to deny the allegations made against Bucharest and to propagate information about him as a student leader and friend. The group also discussed the need for university leaders to clear the student’s name.

 “We really need the university to recant their statements of Zaki being a threat, and provide services to the students that were effected by this incident—but specific and actionable services to these students. If they said that there is an agent provocateur, then all of your personal information is on the line here, and so is your safety,” Sanford said.

So far, the university has not been public in its investigation, nor has it announced any steps to protect students, according to Tasha Triplett, ASPSU funding and outreach coordinator.

“I think the whole situation is very unfortunate, but has given light to a lot of issues that plague this campus. For one, this could have happened to any student if a professor has a personal vendetta against him or her,” Triplett said.

ASPSU Multicultural Affairs Director Samantha Alloy said that “inferring that because someone served in the military that they are a danger to society is an insult to veterans.”

 “Although Bucharest comes across as abrasive at first, he always makes an effort to communicate with people from different communities and to understand those who are different from himself,” Alloy said.