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Irvine 11 Trial Reaches Its Final Stages

Tasbeeh Herwees |
September 19, 2011 | 10:24 p.m. PDT

Senior Reporter


The Orange County Deputy District Attorney accused 11 Muslim students who disrupted the speech of Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren of conspiracy to “shut down” his right to free speech in the closing statements of the Irvine 11 trial Monday. 

UC Irvine campus (Creative Commons)
UC Irvine campus (Creative Commons)

Hundreds of attendees packed the Orange County courtroom to witness the last stages of the misdemeanor case that has gained nationwide attention.

The “Irvine 11” students -- now ten -- are accused of conspiring to disrupt an event held by the University of California, Irvine hosting the Israeli Ambassador after they made repeated interruptions during his speech in February 2010. The students shouted slogans referencing “Operation Cast Lead”, the three-week-long Israeli bombing campaign of the Gaza strip.  

The students have argued that they engaged in a lawful protest, exercising their right to free speech. Their accusers say they intentionally shut down the ambassador.

“They consciously suppressed the free speech rights of the Israeli Ambassador,” argued Orage County DA Dan Wagner, “Why? Because they think he was so wrong about the Gaza conflict that he does not have the right to free speech.”

The DA presented emails exchanged between the students making plans to stage a “Chicago-style” protest - referencing a video of University of Chicago students “shutting down” the speech of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert by repeatedly interrupting him with shouted statements such as “War crimes are not free expression!” and “How many children have to die?”

The students' defense attorneys argued that although the disruptions were planned and modelled after the Chicago protests, the Irvine 11 students did not intend to “shut down” the event as the DA contended. 

“Even after deciding to do a University of Chicago protest, these students continued to plan a protest that was within the norms and that was lawful,” said Defense Attorney Reem Salahi. Salahi said the students stood up to make short statements and peacefully allowed police to lead them out of them room. 

The DA also argued that the students could have have chosen to express their views during the Q&A session, but chose not to so as to avoid “sloppiness”, said Wagner, referencing one of the emails exchanged between the students. 

“Don’t be responsive to [Oren],” said Wagner, extrapolating on the emails, “Stick to the pre-printed statements. Eventually he’ll be ignoring us and after the first few [disruptions] he starts reacting to us, and the program will be successfully taken over.”

The Defense countered that there was no Q&A session advertised and therefore the students did not have a platform on which to express their dissent to the Israeli Ambassador. 

“A Q&A discussion... that’s not a protest,” said Salahi. 

The case has sparked a debate in the Southern California county about whether this is a case of selective punishment. Defense attorney Salahi argued that it is, citing several different cases in which students on several different college campuses protested speakers in a similarly disruptive manner, including a 2006 protest in which students shouted down Columbia Professor Jagdish Bhagwati during a scheduled lecture at UCI. 

“[Students] entered into a lecture hall of about 400 people and chanted for five to ten minutes and they stopped the talk,” said Salahi. No arrests were made at the event, she added. 

At a press conference held during recess, a representative for the Jewish Voice for Peace, Estee Chandler, also compared the Irvine 11 protest to a previous one held by a group of “Young Jewish and Proud” activists to disrupt the speech of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu in November of 2010. 

“None faced criminal charges by a district attorney,” said Chandler, of the Young Jewish and Proud activists, “Only Orange County DA Tony Rackauckas can tell us what set these ten Muslim students apart from the Jewish protesters in New Orleans.” 

The defense will continue their closing statements Tuesday morning.

Follow reporter Tasbeeh Herwees on Twitter. Email her here. 



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