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A Rare Victory for Free Speech at UC Irvine

Posted By Sara Dogan On July 1, 2010 @ 12:25 am In FrontPage | 39 Comments

The incident occurred in February when Israeli ambassador Michael Oren spoke at UC Irvine. According to the disciplinary committee’s findings, members of the Muslim Student Union (MSU) disrupted the speech by standing up and yelling, one after the other, creating a chaotic situation in which the speaker could not continue. Even after warnings and entreaties from faculty and administrators present at the speech who pleaded with the students to affirm the principles of free speech and an open dialogue on campus, the MSU continued its obstruction. Finally, Ambassador Oren was forced to abandon his address.

The report filed by the Irvine disciplinary committee which investigated the incident is astonishing—not only because of what it reveals about the actions of the MSU— but because it is almost unheard of for a university to bother to examine the organized and deliberate silencing of campus speakers and punish those guilty. And the evidence shows that the demonstration was not spontaneous: the Muslim Student Union conspired to interrupt Oren’s speech and ensure that he was unable to state his views on campus.

The disciplinary committee concluded that, “The disruptions were planned, orchestrated and coordinated in advance by the Muslim Student Union,” and noted that during one meeting prior to Oren’s speech MSU members had discussed how to “send the speaker a message – our goal should be that he knows that he can’t just go to a campus and say whatever he wants.” The committee further found that following the disruption of Oren’s speech, the MSU engineered a cover-up and instructed its membership to lie about the organization’s involvement in the protests. As a result of its investigation, the disciplinary committee decided to suspend the Muslim Student Union for one year. The MSU is appealing the decision.

The university’s action takes place against a backdrop of radical campus action by the MSA. Over the past several years, the organization has organized demonstrations against Israel and in behalf of Palestinian and jihadi groups that have angered both the university and the surrounding community. Verbal violence has been a constant of these demonstrations. In one of them, pro-Israeli students and observers were chased off campus by MSA students who cornered them in a parking garage and threatened them with physical violence.

The David Horowitz Freedom Center, which has supported student free speech rights at UC Irvine and pushed for academic freedom nationwide, applauded the decision by Irvine administrators and called for all universities to adopt a policy requiring a one year suspension for any student organization which obstructs an invited campus speaker.

“I have been the victim of such attacks on many occasions, and only rarely have university administrators acted in my defense,” David Horowitz said. “The actions of the UCI administration in this case are a step in the right direction, but many universities still punish these obstructions lightly, if at all.”

Efforts on the part of radical student groups to suppress free speech on campus have intensified in recent years. While attempting to deliver an address at the University of California Berkeley in 2004, Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes was shouted down and obstructed by students from the Muslim Students Association and Students for Justice in Palestine who willfully disregarded signs posted outside the lecture hall warning that no banners, signs, shouting or violence would be allowed during the speech. University administrators refused to punish the students and groups at fault.

In another incident, Nonie Darwish, a critic of radical Islam was greeted by an unruly mob at Berkeley who shouted “Fascist! Fascist! Fascist!” at her and “You are nothing but a tool for the imperialism of the United States! You are here to spread racist filth on our Arab brothers and sisters!” When Darwish spoke at Boston University, someone deliberately lit a fire in a restroom near the site of her speech, 15 minutes before it was scheduled to begin. In none of these cases did the offenders face serious repercussions for their actions (the culprit in the fire at Boston University has not been discovered).

At the University of Southern California, Students for Justice in Palestine, threatened to shut down a planned speech by David Horowitz and were only prevented from doing so by the refusal of Horowitz’s hosts to admit them to the auditorium. They settled for screaming epithets outside. When Horowitz was invited to speak at the University of Texas, angry mobs of students led by Marxist professor Dana Cloud had to be removed before he could proceed with his address. While attempting to deliver a lecture on radical Islam at Emory University in 2007, Horowitz was constantly interrupted by protestors from several student organizations. The disruptions were so severe that his speech had to be cut short.

One likely factor in the suspension of the MSU, though it goes unmentioned in official accounts, is a campaign organized by students at Irvine to request rebates of their mandatory student fee monies used to fund an “Israeli Apartheid” hate week earlier in the semester. Approximately $6,500 in student funds were allocated to the Muslim Student Union for the event which was held May 10-13 on UCI’s campus. Speakers at the Apartheid Week included Amir-Abdel Malik-Ali, a radical Islamic leader who rallied students to support Hamas and Hezbollah, openly declared his support for Islamic jihad, and told students at his speech, “You Jews…ya’ll the new Nazis!”

The refund campaign was initiated by UCI student Joe Wolf, a third year Ph.D. candidate in physics, on May 24th. On that date, Wolf invited 56 UCI undergraduates to join a group on a Facebook site that provided information on how to request their refund. Within 12 hours, approximately 100 students had filled out the online refund form. Within two weeks, a total of 911 students, most of them non-Jews, had used the site to lodge official refund requests with the campus administration. UC Irvine policy allows for students to “seek a refund of that portion of his or her fee which he or she believes continues to support political, ideological, or religious organizations or activities.”

These students’ information has been sent to the chair of the ASUCI judicial branch, who recently contacted Wolf to say that their case is being reviewed.

Speaking on the decision to suspend the MSU, Joe Wolf commented, “I think that this decision is long overdue… After years of harassment and intimidation of Jewish students on the most anti-Semitic campus in the United States, it was only after MSU shot itself in the foot by disrupting Michael Oren’s speech that disciplinary actions have finally been internally recommended to the administration.”

Commenting on the UC Irvine decision, David Horowitz said, “The administration there has taken a rare and courageous stand in support of free speech and critical thought on campus. It is time for other universities to do the same and adopt an official policy recommending a one year suspension for any campus organization which obstructs an invited speaker.”


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