The Irvine 11 – by Stephen Lendman
On February 9, New York Times writer Jennifer Medina headlined, “Charges Against Muslim Students Prompt Debate Over Free Speech,” saying:
On February 8, 11 Muslim students interrupted Israeli ambassador Michael Oren’s University of California-Irvine speech, criticizing him and Israeli injustice. In fact, they exercised their fundamental First Amendment right doing so.
Nonetheless, Orange County “District Attorney Tony Rackauckas….filed misdemeanor criminal charges against (them), accusing them of disturbing a public meeting and engaging in a conspiracy to do so.”
Afterwards, the Southern California ACLU sharply criticized him. In addition, about 100 faculty members urged him to drop the charges. He refused.
Orange County is a hotbed of right-wing extremism, reflected in its district attorney, acting more like an Israeli enforcer than defender of constitutional rights.
During Oren’s speech, students rose one at a time to interrupt, finally getting Oren to “huddle with his aides to decide whether to continue. He did, but by the time” he ended, all 11 students were arrested.
They’re called the “Irvine 11,” even though three were University of California-Riverside students.
In recent years, southern California Jews called SC-Irvine a hub of anti-Israeli activism. The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) accused university officials of not confronting the issue.
Others call targeting Muslims when they speak out courageously the real problem, especially about Israeli lawlessness and injustice.
It’s one thing calling them too outspoken or rude. It’s quite another falsely accusing them of lawbreaking by exercising their free speech right.
In fact, if Jewish students confronted a visiting Muslin official, it would have gone unnoticed, no matter how many did it or what they said.
In 2009, ZOA also accused UC-Irvine’s Muslim Student Union (MSU) of sponsoring an event to raise money for Hamas, asking the FBI to investigate. No charges were filed.
However, university officials accused MSU of coordinating with students to interrupt Oren’s speech. As a result, in mid-June, they suspended the organization for a year, placing it on disciplinary probation.
At the time, attorney Reem Salahi, representing MSU, said the action would have a “massive chilling effect,” adding:
“What does it mean to suspend an organization that represents hundreds of Muslims on campus? What (UC-Irvine is doing) is depriving those students of the right to associate.”
“It’s not only the punishment, but the vilifying of these students that’s concerning. Whether it was rude is not the issue. The issue is that they were trying to air their (legitimate) grievances in a peaceful way.”
She also said so-called evidence used was flawed, explaining:
“A lot of (it) was anonymous. We don’t know who was testifying. A lot of the evidence was redacted. We don’t know what was said in full.”
We do know that UC-Irvine acted like an Israeli enforcer, defiling constitutional rights in the process.
On September 8, Los Angeles Times writer Lauren Williams headlined, “Irvine 11’s trial begins with both sides citing 1st Amendment,” saying:
The trial for 10 students began. In August, charges against the 11th were dropped. If convicted they face up to a year in jail, not for lawbreaking – for being Muslim in America at the wrong time, as well as challenging Israeli lawlessness.
At issue is why everyone doesn’t do it and why Washington uses taxpayer money to fund it.
“Prosecutors said (students) ‘shut down’ ambassador Michael Oren, preventing him from freely exchanging ideas with those who went to hear him speak….”
“Defense attorneys argued that the students expressed political views in a legal protest and that prosecuting them infringes on their rights.”
Orange County Deputy District Attorney Dan Wagner said defendants shouted scripted lines, calling him a war criminal. “They didn’t want to have an exchange of ideas to see who was telling the truth and who was not. What their intention was, make no mistake, was to shut him down.”
Defense attorney Salahi (one of six) told jurors precisely what students said, including:
“Michael Oren, propagating murder is not free speech.”
They did it peacefully before walking out. They broke no laws. An unnamed UC-Irvine professor, father of one of the defendants, called prosecutors politically motivated, adding that they targeted students for being Muslims.
According to Father Wilfredo Benitez, Garden Grove St. Anselm of Canterbury Episcopal Church rector:
“This smells of persecution. In a free country….this should simply not be happening.”
Mountaz Herzallah, father of one of the defendants, said he immigrated from Gaza “to have peace, dignity and honor.” But Rackauckas “threw the Constitution in the trash” by filing false charges.
Irvine11.com presents a timeline of events as follows:
February 8, 2010
— 11 students interrupted Oren’s speech peacefully, accusing him and Israel of injustice;
— afterwards, students received death threats as well as other racist slurs;
— although they conducted themselves peacefully, they were arrested and threatened with academic punishment;
— university Chancellor Michael Drake, Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, and others were petitioned to drop all criminal charges, as well as threatened suspension or expulsion;
— West Bank Birzeit University’s Omar Qassis (a student activist) wrote the students, saying:
“What you did was an expression that helped us inside Palestine feel proud, helped us feel united as a people, and helped us feel strong. You stood in the face of our oppressors and refused to let him whitewash the atrocities of his government, and you refused to let him justify the murder of our civilians and children, the destruction of our cities, refugee camps and villages.”
“What I am intending to say is, thank you. Thank you for standing up for Palestinians’ right to education. Thank you for standing up for justice. Thank you for risking your own education and future for the sake of others.”
During a New Hampshire speech, protesters interrupted Obama. He responded, saying:
“Let me just say this though. Some people got organized to do that. That’s part of the American tradition we are proud of. And that’s hard too, standing in the midst of people who disagree with you and letting your voice be heard.”
— UC-San Diego’s Associated Students unanimously passed a resolution, condemning UC-Irvine’s disciplinary action.
— 100 UC-Irvine professors urged charges against the Irvine 11 be dropped.
— UCLA Associated Students passed a resolution, condemning charges and disciplinary actions against the students.
— UC-Irvine alumna Marya Bangee condemned UC-Irvine’s actions, commending the support groups gave the persecuted students, including:
(1) the Associated Students of University of California, San Diego (UCSD);
(2) Undergraduate Students Association Council of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA);
(3) Associated Students of the University of California, Berkeley (UCB); and
(4) Associated Students of the University of California, Irvine (UCI).
— the advocacy Stand with the Eleven group published a response to Oren’s open letter in New University, a weekly UC-Irvine publication.
— UC-Berkeley’s student senate passed a divestment resolution against Israel.
— UC-Irvine suspended the Muslim Student Union (MSU) for a year;
— lawyers representing MSU appealed.
UC-Irvine vice chancellor Manuel Gomez reaffirmed MSU’s suspension.
MSU’s suspension became official.
— Its suspension was lifted ahead of schedule; it remained on probation for two academic years.
February 7, 2011
— Orange County district attorney charged Irvine 11 students with two counts of misdemeanors as explained above.
— Stand with the Eleven campaign’s community call for action event featured attorney Reem Salahi, Father Wilfredo Benitez, Jewish Voice of Peace activist Rachel Roberts, Council for American-Islamic Relation, Los Angeles’s (CAIR-LA) Hussam Ayloush, and Muslim Public Affairs Council’s Edina Lekovic.
— Stand with Eleven campaign released a supportive video.
— over 150 supporters attended the pre-trial court session.
— Stand with the Eleven campaign established an “offense/defense” fund with Muslims Lawyers Fund of America (MLFA).
— a fundraising dinner featured distinguished speakers.
— a motion to demur (dismiss) was dismissed.
— a second fundraising dinner was held.
— a decision on Attorney General Tony Rackauckas was considered; Irvine 11 lawyers demanded he be removed from the case; Deputy District Attorney Dan Wagner appeared in court for opening arguments.
An initial August 15 trial date was set. On September 7, it began. At issue, of course, is right v. wrong at a time Muslims are vilified for their faith, ethnicity, and suspicion of being a dangerous fifth column threat.
Follow ongoing events and actions on irvine11.com supportively for justice. In a post-9/11 world, it’s very much in short supply, perhaps heading toward disappearing altogether unless good people stand firm to restore it.
A Final Comment
A previous article discussed the wrongful death sentence given Troy Anthony Davis, one of many innocent men facing capital punishment. Access it through the following link:
Detailed information about him can be found at troyanthonydavis.org.
The state of Georgia set September 21st for his state-sponsored murder.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court wouldn’t hear his final appeal.
Georgia’s Board of Pardons & Paroles now is key. Shortly, it will hold a final clemency hearing. Without great pressure, it will let an innocent man be executed.
Sign the below-linked petition to save him:
It’s his only chance unless Georgia’s governor offers an 11th hour reprieve, what appears very unlikely.
America’s penal system is notoriously unjust in cases involving Blacks, Latinos and Muslims, in contrast to America’s elites. No matter how serious their crimes, they hardly ever run afoul of the law, and when do get off lightly.
Unless that’s changed, justice denied always will be. It’s up to people of conscience to demand otherwise by backing up their principles with commitment. It’s the only way.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.