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Tension Lingers At UC Irvine Long After Oren's Speech

Laura Cueva |
June 20, 2010 | 9:02 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

UC Irvine recommended suspension for the Muslim Student Union.
(UC Irvine)

According to documents released Monday, the University of California Irvine is seeking suspension of their student-run Muslim union group after a number of its members interrupted a speech by Israel's ambassador Michael Oren earlier this year.

The recommendation to suspend the group, which was made late this May but not announced until now, came after officials found records of the group's organization to disrupt Oren's speech focused on U.S.-Israeli relations.

School officials found detailed e-mails and meeting minutes that showed the Muslim Student Union had planned to interrupt the speech all along and organized outbursts as a group.

But the Muslim group maintains that the disruptions were acts of individuals and not the group as a whole.

The MSU did do their research however. After the event, Oren wrote the group a letter inviting them to an open discussion with mutual respect, to which MSU responded with their own letter. In it, they somewhat angrily accepted the request, condemning Oren and his denial of Palestinian "apartheid" in Israel, using his background and numerous quotes, both from him and from various revolutionary leaders, against him.

In total, 11 students were arrested and cited for disturbing a public event, although no formal charges have been announced. According to the L.A. Times, students shouted various statements, including "Michael Oren, propagating murder is not an expression of free speech." As one student was taken away by police and Oren resumed, another student would shout something and disrupt the speech all over again.

The university is looking to suspend the group for a year starting in September, due to "disorderly conduct, obstructing university activities, furnishing false information and other violations of campus policy."

While their intentions were good and based on fully informed and educated opinions, I didn't agree with the way they handled themselves during the event. Though the 11 students cooperated fully with police and didn't put up a struggle, shouting and interrupting a speaker at an event won't get you heard and definitely won't advance your cause. Their acquisition of the first amendment didn't do much but get them sent to jail and further their school and their organization's already poor reputations.

...or at least I thought that until I saw this video.

It's clear the students don't agree with their school's decision to invite Oren, whose views they vehemently oppose. Though they were somewhat rude in interrupting, their passion is evident and they actually represented themselves as educated students who, had it not been for their shouts of disapproval, would never have been heard.

What aren't represented in good light are the people who jeered at the students for interrupting. They literally shouted death threats at the young students, encouraging them to "just become suicide bombers," and aiming vulgar hand gestures their way.

The video provided a chilling view into the racism that Muslim students have to go through on a daily basis, and the comments on the video and other websites only propagate hatred and ignorance toward an immensely complex situation and a suffering people.

I won't pretend to fully understand the Jewish-Palestinian battle that continues to tear apart an already war-torn country, but I now understand how brave these young people were in standing up for what they believed in. Amid shouts of hatred, racial profiling and stereotypical assumptions, they remained strong and kept their cool.

The event has also furthered heated tensions between the school's Jewish and Muslim populations over the students' right to freedom of speech and acts of discrimination.

In 2005, UC Irvine was investigated after claims of incidents of anti-Semitism on campus, including the destruction of a Holocaust memorial and carvings of swastikas nearby, which the university reported but did not publicly acknowledge. The report found that although Muslim students had participated in offensive behavior, their actions arose from opposition to the policies of Israel rather than to Jewish students.

This Monday, Jewish groups praised the university's actions against the Muslim Student Union and found the suspension to be appropriate punishment. Muslim activists, however, found the punishment excessive and did not think the entire group should be punished for the actions of a few.

In addition to a year-long suspension, the group faces 50 hours of community service for each of its members. Muslim students would no longer have any representation on campus if the suspension goes through.

Those who shouted death threats at the young students, on the other hand, remain at large. 



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