SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) — Criminal charges were filed against 11 Muslim students who disrupted a speech by Israel’s ambassador to the United States in Irvine, Calif.
Jewish groups offered a mixed reaction to the charges filed late last week against nine University of California-Irvine students and two students from UC Riverside. Arraignment is set for March 11 in Santa Ana, Calif. The students disrupted a Feb. 8, 2010 speech by Ambassador Michael Oren at the University of California, Irvine. Oren walked off the stage twice, unable to continue because of the disruption.
During the speech, 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 disruption was organized to protest Israeli actions in Gaza.
Similar actions by other Jewish groups have resulted in little or no punishment, the Jewish Voice for Peace said in a statement blasting the arrests. 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 organization said.
The Zionist Organization of America praised the DA’s decision to bring the charges, which carry with them 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. 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,” Morton A. Klein, ZOA national president, and Susan B. Tuchman, director of the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, said in a statement.
“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.