The "Irvine 11" Fights the Power

As they fill out their AARP membership cards, '60s burnouts can rejoice that a group of campus agitators has at last come along to rival the infamous Chicago Seven.

Mamas and papas, introducing the "Irvine 11"!

Something's happening here, and what it is ain't exactly kosher. The Irvine 11 are the students who were arrested for repeatedly interrupting the Feb. 8 UC Irvine Student Center lecture by Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the U.S. Initial reports indicated 12 young people from Irvine and Riverside were popped as a result of the outbursts, but the total was later revised to 11.

It's gotten so, as Duke once said, ri-god-damn-diculous around here that crisis counselor Alan Hilburg has been hired by the university to help reassure the public UCI values people of all races and religions, civil discussion and free speech, blogs the Orange County Register's Gary Robbins.

The president of Washington, D.C.-based Hilburg and Associates was retained as a consultant to UCI about five years ago when the university shut down its liver-transplant program amid a stinging Medicare probe.

The notion of an Irvine 11 amuses Ben Harris of the JTA, "the Global News Service of the Jewish People."

Maybe "amuses" is not the right word.

Like the Seattle Seven ("That was me and, uh, six other guys"), the Scottsboro Nine, the Four Tops, the Stooges Three, and other monuments to American injustice and the peculiarities of taste, the 11 are not without their defenders. At least two Web sites have been launched (see here and here) and national groups have been recruited to the cause.

Harris says, "This thing is escalating into a full bore information war." has a video that I like to think of as the Palestinian director's cut of the much-circulated video of the disrupted Oren speech. It features Oren supporters cursing and gesticulating, and one bizarre section where a disembodied voice calmly suggests that someone -- it's not clear who -- should go become a suicide bomber and do the world a favor.

In other news from the frontlines of this information war, presidents of five Jewish student groups at UC Irvine--including Chabad, Hilel at UCI and Anteaters for Israel--issued a joint statement Monday protesting the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) call last week for a boycott of student enrollments and donor gifts to the university.

The student leaders called the ZOA boycott "both counterproductive and one of the worst ways to deal with the Muslim Student Union (MSU) at UCI." They instead advocate a "proactive" approach "by engaging in positive dialogue and peace-seeking efforts. An important part of this is to bring more students to the campus who are interested in making progress towards peace between groups on campus as well as in the Middle East," the presidents wrote.

Michael Drake, the university's chancellor, and Mark Petracca, a political science professor, immediately chastised the disruptive students, many of whom were Islamic, and Erwin Chemerinsky, the School of Law dean, later accused the students of violating Oren's free-speech rights.

The MSU, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Council of American-Islamic Relations later condemned the arrests by campus police. The VOA then condemned the university, both for what it perceived to be the soft handling of the protesters and a campus atmosphere that has allowed anti-Semitism to fester.

But in their statement, the leaders of the Jewish student groups applaud campus police and the administration for their handling of the matter, and take a shot at the ZOA: "While the authors of ZOA's statement were not present at the program, we were, and Chancellor Drake did in fact publicly speak out against the disruptions, and subsequently released a statement on the school's website."

Like the Anti-Defamation League, which also opposes a Jewish boycott, the student leaders agree that "MSU's consistent anti-Israel and anti-Semitic programs are reprehensible, offensive and embarrassing for the university."

"However, this is not reason enough to advise prospective students to stay away from attending UCI, and recommend to the school's donors to stop their financial support. Without such support, it would not have been possible to make our community on campus as thriving as it is today."

The signers of the statement are: Moran Cohen, president of Anteaters for Israel; David Drabinsky, president of Alpha Epsilon Pi; Michael Hirschberg, president of Chabad at UCI; Ami Kurzweil, president of Hillel at UCI; and Courtney Kravitz, president of Alpha Epsilon Phi.

Meanwhile, the student government down coast at UC San Diego has come out in support of the Irvine 11. Everyone's weighing in. The Weekly recently featured the views of longtime Orange County progressive activist, Cal State Fullerton professor and UCI alum Jarret Lovell. Another academic chiming in is UCI Middle East expert Mark LeVine, who writes in today's Los Angeles Times that it is unfair to throw the book at, you guessed it, the Irvine 11.

Famed defense lawyer Alan M. Dershowitz blogs on David Horowitz's Newsreal that he, too, has clashed with disruptive students while speaking on college campuses, including UCI, "trying to make the moderate, two-state solution case on behalf of Israel."

My speeches have been greeted with shouts of disapproval and efforts to silence me. When I spoke last year at the University of Massachusetts, a similar effort was made to prevent me from expressing my view. I refused to remain silent and I simply shouted over the ruckus. Eventually the University had to end the event. When I spoke at the University of California at Irvine several years earlier, there was also some heckling, but there was no coordinated effort to stop me from speaking. Similar groups have succeeded in preventing other pro-Israel speakers, including Israel's former Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, and its current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, from speaking.

Dershowitz believes universities must take such disruptions "very seriously" and always be "places where full and complete freedom of speech must be given a high priority."

Freedom of speech does permit the right of audience members to express views different from a speaker, so long as they obey reasonable rules and do not prevent the speaker from expressing his or her views. Reasonable rules include permitting the holding of signs, so long as they do not block anyone's view, the handing out of leaflets, an opportunity to ask questions at the end of the talk and sporadic and non-recurrent booing or shouting of brief comments.

He says he has defended students who have been subjected to discipline for shouting a single word, holding a sign or making an obscene gesture. 

But I would not defend a so-called right of a group of students to act in a coordinated manner in an effort to prevent a speaker from expressing views that the audience is entitled to hear.


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