Charges filed against ‘Irvine 11’

SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) — Criminal charges were filed against 11 Muslim students who disrupted a speech at the University of California, Irvine, by Israel’s U.S. ambassador.

During the Feb. 8, 2010 speech by Michael Oren, the 11 defendants stood one by one and shouted at the ambassador, calling him a “mass murderer” and a “war criminal,” among other insults. The disruptions, organized to protest Israeli actions in Gaza, prompted Oren to walk off the stage twice.

The charges were filed late last week against nine Irvine students and two students from the University of California, Riverside. Arraignment is set for March 11 in Santa Ana, Calif.

Jewish Voice for Peace, a Berkeley-based national organization that describes itself as a pro-peace group but which critics say works to undermine the State of Israel, blasted the arrests and noted in a statement that Jewish groups have not been charged for similar disruptions. The organization said two Jewish Voice for Peace members will hand-deliver a 5,000-signature petition against the charges Wednesday to the Orange County District Attorney.

The Zionist Organization of America, which opposes unilateral Israeli concessions to the Palestinians and has complained about harassment of pro-Israel groups in the United States, praised the district attorney’s decision to bring the charges. The charges carry sentences ranging from probation with community service or fines or up to six months in jail.

“We’re pleased to see that the District Attorney’s office is not hesitating to hold members of the Muslim Student Union responsible for possibly criminal behavior,” Morton Klein, ZOA national president, and Susan Tuchman, director of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, said in a statement. “Had the District Attorney decided not to prosecute, he’d be sending the message that the disrupters’ conduct was acceptable, effectively making a mockery of the First Amendment and a mockery of our laws.

“Members of the Muslim Student Union aren’t entitled to special treatment. If they violated the law, they should be held accountable and punished.”

“It’s indeed ironic that the Muslim Student Union is portraying itself as a victim here, when for years, its unbridled bigotry against Jews and Israel resulted in a hostile anti-Semitic campus environment for Jewish students,” Klein and Tuchman said.

The Muslim Student Union at UC Irvine, which organized the Oren heckling, was suspended for violating the university’s code of conduct for a year, later amended to four months, and is now on probation.

Six years ago, ZOA filed a civil rights complaint against UC Irvine on behalf of several Jewish students who felt that the university had not gone far enough to deal with the anti-Semitic atmosphere on campus.

The Jewish Voice for Peace petition is signed by more than 5,000 Jews stating that they also had interrupted a speaker or an event to make a political point. It asks the district attorney to “charge them too” if the case goes forward against the Muslim students.

The two who plan to deliver the petition were among a group of Jewish Voice for Peace activists who disrupted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s keynote speech last November at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America in New Orleans. They were released without punishment.