The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) commends Orange County, CA District Attorney Tony Rackauckas for proceeding with the prosecution of 10 Muslim students who shouted down Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren during his speech at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) on February 8, 2010. The students are charged with one misdemeanor count of conspiracy to disturb a meeting and one misdemeanor count of the disturbance of a meeting. If convicted, they face a sentence ranging from probation with community service and fines to up to six months in jail. The criminal trial of the 10 students most from UC Irvine and some from UC Riverside — started last week.
Authorities say that the students stood up one by one at Ambassador Orens meeting and speech, shouting such phrases as you are a war criminal and a mass murderer. The interruptions were so severe and unrelenting that the Ambassador had to stop speaking twice and canceled his planned question-and-answer period.
UCI investigated what occurred; its investigator found that a campus group called the Muslim Student Union well-known for its anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric had planned, orchestrated and coordinated the disruptions in advance, and also instructed its members to lie and tell anyone who asked, that the group had not organized the protest. After years of averting its eyes from the Muslim Student Unions misconduct which has caused many Jewish students to repeatedly complain of harassment and intimidation to university officials UCI finally disciplined the Muslim Student Union for violating university policies by disrupting Ambassador Orens speech. The Muslim Student Union was suspended for one semester, placed on probation for an additional year, and ordered to do community service. Plainly in an effort to evade the punishment, the Muslim Student Union reorganized under two different group names Alkalima (which had been the name of the Muslim Student groups magazine) and Students for Justice in Palestine and continued to sponsor the same kinds of programs that it had sponsored prior to its suspension. There is no evidence that individual students were punished by the university. Neither the Muslim Student Union nor individual student members have ever apologized or expressed any remorse for their wrongdoing.
The District Attorney faced pressure from various groups to drop the charges, claiming that the Muslim students were being unfairly singled out and that the prosecution violated their right to free speech. But as the District Attorney explained when he charged the students: This case is being filed because there was an organized attempt to squelch the speaker, who was invited to speak to a group at UCI. These defendants meant to stop this speech and to stop anyone else from hearing his ideas, and they did so by disrupting a lawful meeting. This is a clear violation of the law and failing to bring charges against this conduct would amount to failure to uphold the Constitution.
Morton A. Klein, ZOAs National President, and Susan B. Tuchman, Esq., Director of the ZOAs Center for Law and Justice, commended Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas for refusing to succumb to pressure and proceeding with the criminal prosecution of the Muslim students who repeatedly disrupted Ambassador Michael Oren: The students on trial for disrupting Ambassador Orens speech at UCI interfered with the Ambassadors right to speak and the audiences right to hear him. Their wrongdoing did not occur in a vacuum. Most of these students were members of the Muslim Student Union at UCI, which, for years, has promoted hateful falsehoods about Jews and Israel, including grossly and absurdly comparing Jews and Israelis to Nazis. This group posted signs and distributed literature on campus that was hateful and bigoted against Jews and Israel. Every year and sometimes more frequently, the group sponsored anti-Semitic and Israel-bashing programs on campus, which lasted for at least a week and sometimes two weeks. The titles alone show just how vicious these programs are: Israel, the 4th Reich and A World Without Israel, to name two.
The Muslim Student Union created such a hostile environment for Jewish students at UCI that several students were afraid to wear anything that identified them as Jews and Israel supporters. Some feared for their physical safety. Two students actually left UCI and continued their studies elsewhere, because they could no longer tolerate the hostile campus environment that the Muslim Student Unions speakers and programs engendered.
It is remarkable that in promoting anti-Semitic and Israel-bashing falsehoods on the UCI campus, the Muslim Student Union relied on their First Amendment right to free speech. Yet the group showed no respect for Ambassador Orens free speech rights, or those of his audience. The group deliberately defied the warnings of university officials and tried to prevent the Ambassador from simply explaining Israels policies and practices, and to prevent the audience from hearing him.
By his actions, the District Attorney has sent the message that the students on trial are not above the law. If the evidence at trial establishes their guilt, they should be held accountable and punished, just like anyone else who violates our criminal laws.