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Here is how the letter described the actions of the students who came to shut down the speaker:
“the students non-violently and verbally protested a university-invited speaker. The students left the event peacefully.”
The letter then compared the actions of the censors with those who wanted to listen:
“[They] conducted themselves in less of a disruptive manner than some of the counter-protesters….”
Sounds as if the Muslim Student Union deserved a civil liberties award, while the students who came to listen to the invited speaker—“the counter-protestors”—deserve to be condemned. In a more recent letter the ACLU leaders claim that “the students’ intent was not to censor the speaker….”
The problem with the ACLU account is that it is completely fictional—made up out of whole cloth—as anyone can see for themselves by viewing the video and listening to the Muslim Students Association leaders who described their aim to “shut down”—that is to censor—the speakers. That is why these students are being prosecuted, according to the District Attorney—not for merely “protesting” the speaker’s views, but because they “meant to stop [Ambassador Oren’s] speech and stop anyone else from hearing his ideas.” The students themselves have been more honest about their intentions than the ACLU leaders. . For instance, one student leader refused to acknowledge that Mr. Oren had First Amendment rights of his own by interrupting him and shouting, “Propagating murder is not an expression of free speech!” Another student was caught on video telling a crowd assembled outside the event that “we pretty much shut them down.”
Ultimately a jury will decide whether the students conspired to “shut down” Oren’s talk, or whether they were merely “protesting” the content of his talk. The evidence will clearly show a conspiracy to stop Oren from speaking.
Why then have the ACLU leaders distorted the facts and conveyed a totally misleading impression of what took place at the University of California? The answer seems clear. These leaders don’t like Israel and they support the censorship of pro-Israel views. They would never take the same position if the shoe had been on the other foot: If the speaker were from Hamas and the students trying to shut him down were pro-Israel.
The national ACLU must investigate this matter and take action to assure that its longstanding principle of neutral support for freedom of expression has not been compromised by local leaders who have placed their opposition to Israel above the principles of free speech.
Another group that has sought to pressure the District Attorney to give the censors a pass is comprised of 30 Jewish Studies faculty members at the University of California. That may be surprising to some who believe that such professors would be sympathetic to students who wanted to listen to the Israeli Ambassador and history professor.
But it is not surprising to those who understand that many Jewish Studies have departments been hijacked by anti-Israeli extremists. Among the signers of this letter were academics who favor boycotts, divestment and demonization of Israel as an Apartheid or Nazi regime.
As a lifelong civil libertarian and defender of free speech, I hope the District Attorney will not succumb to these political pressures. The values of the First Amendment favor prosecution in this case, just as they would if Jewish students conspired to shut down an Anti-Israel speaker. The defense of freedom of speech must be neutral and vigorous.
Alan Dershowitz’s latest novel is The Trials of Zion. This article was originally published in the Orange County Register.
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