Israeli ambassador offers to return to UC Irvine

IRVINE, Calif. (AP) — Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren has offered to return to the University of California, Irvine to exchange views with students who heckled him raucously on campus last month.

Oren made the offer in an open letter to the UC Irvine community published Monday on the Web site of the campus newspaper New University.

Oren was repeatedly interrupted and called “murderer” and “war criminal” by pro-Palestinian students as he was giving a talk on the Middle East peace process. Eleven students were cited on charges of disrupting a public event after they were requested to refrain from heckling but did not.

The diplomat said he understood the emotional nature of Middle East politics, but said it was also important to observe the decorum of free speech and hear others’ viewpoints.

“I was saddened by the loss of this opportunity to exchange ideas with those who disagreed with me and, at the very least, to introduce them to different perspectives,” he wrote.

Oren noted that the incident underscored the importance of dialogue, and said dialogue was the only way peace in the Middle East would be achieved. He offered to return to the campus as long as the proper decorum of free speech is respected.

UC President Mark Yudof and campus Chancellor Michael Drake apologized for the students’ behavior.

The arrest of the 11 students has turned into a political issue on campus, with some students saying the hecklers were unfairly targeted for making a political statement and exercising their own right to free speech.