‘Irvine 11’ May Face Expulsion

Michael Oren- Israeli Ambassador

Eleven students from UC Irvine and UC Riverside may face expulsion after interrupting a speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren at UCI on Feb. 8.

The students, known as the “Irvine 11,” were arrested by campus police and charged with disturbing a public event. According to witnesses, each of the 11 students stood up over the course of the event and shouted at the ambassador.

“Michael Oren, propagating murder is not an expression of free speech,” one student yelled during the speech, according to the Los Angeles Times.

According to UCI Director of Media Relations Cathy Lawhon, the Office of Student Conduct is deciding what disciplinary action it will take. UCI’s student conduct code outlines four types of possible action, Lawhon said. Students may receive a warning, behavioral probation, suspension or dismissal.

Following the event and the arrests, UCI Chancellor Michael Drake issued a statement admonishing the actions of the 11 students.

“A great university depends on the free exchange of ideas,” Drake said in the statement. “This is non-negotiable. Those who attempt to suppress the rights of others violate core principles that are the foundation of any learning community. We cannot and do not allow such behavior.”

Both Drake and UCI School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky released statements saying the students’ actions are not protected.

“What the students were exercising was a heckler’s veto, which is trying to shout down another person’s freedom of speech — and that is not protected free speech,” Lawhon said.

Reem Salahi, one of two attorneys representing the students, said the punishments they face are disproportionate to the severity of their actions.

“The fact that the university is threatening very draconian punishments against the students, whether it’s expulsion or suspension, along with arresting them — which could potentially turn into a criminal charge — that is not normally how people are dealt with when they protest or heckle,” Salahi said. “My concern is the politics at play, and I definitely think there is a lot of politics at play here, which is not acceptable.”

The UCI Muslim Student Union issued a statement denouncing the ambassador’s appearance before the event took place.

“We strongly condemn the university for cosponsoring, and therefore inadvertently supporting, the ambassador of a state that is condemned by more UN Human Rights Council resolutions than all other countries in the world combined,” it said.

Salahi said she is concerned that the political implications of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be a driving force in the administration’s actions.

“Certain outside forces are pressuring the university to teach these kids a lesson because of a broader political message that the university and on-site organizations are trying to send,” Salahi said. “This has become a very political debate. The university is definitely trying to chill political speech, particularly Palestinian political speech.”

To a lesser degree, controversy also still shrouds Oren’s Feb. 10 visit to UCSD. UCSD-TV, which aired only part of the ambassador’s visit, was charged by various attendees with censoring the ambassador’s presentation to portray it more favorably.

“The Dean of International Relations and Pacific Studies [Peter Cowley] said that if questions were too aggressive, then we’ll cut off the [microphones],” A.S. Campuswide Senator Wafa Ben Hassine said. “And essentially, that is a threat to freedom of speech of the students.”

Cowley said the microphone was cut off on anybody who engaged in “disruptive” and “belligerent” behavior during the question-and-answer period.

According to UCSD-TV Public Affairs Producer Shannon Bradley, the omitted scene was an introduction, and the overall content of Oren’s speech was not altered.

“In this case, we decided to include all of the question and formatting because it was pretty hot, and I thought it was an interesting exchange, and that people watching would be curious to hear the questions and hear the answers, so that was our focus,” Bradley said. “And then I went back to trim to make sure we could get it all into time.”

However, according to Ben Hassine, the introduction infringed on the right to free speech by discouraging students from expressing their opinions, and the omission didn’t provide viewers with the limited context of the comment period.

“I think it generally instilled a feeling of ‘Watch your mouth and be careful of what you say,’” Ben Hassine said. “It could have suppressed certain questions that students wanted to ask … That is a threat to their free speech, and that is essentially what concerns me.”

UCSD-TV does not plan to release the rest of the broadcast.

“We just can’t establish that kind of precedent,” Bradley said. “We make one program, and that’s our program. We stand by our show. If we responded to every single request from everyone who went, ‘Oh, I want my question in there,’ or ‘Oh, I want this in there,’ we would never get anything done.”

Additional reporting by Hayley Bisceglia-Martin.

Readers can contact Ayelet Bitton at [email protected].