By Adam Horowitz
Last Friday, the Orange County district attorney, Tony Rackauckas, announced he was filing charges against the 11 students who interrupted Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s speech at UC Irvine a year ago. This was despite the fact that the Muslim Student Union, which helped organize the protest, had already been reprimanded by the university. Rackauckas made a statement on the charges saying:
This case is being filed because there was an organized attempt to squelch the speaker, who was invited to speak to a group at UCI. These defendants meant to stop this speech and stop anyone else from hearing his ideas, and they did so by disrupting a lawful meeting. This is a clear violation of the law and failing to bring charges against this conduct would amount to a failure to uphold the Constitution.
The ACLU protested the move saying “We are unaware of any case where a district attorney pressed criminal charges over this type of nonviolent student protest,” and the LA Times condemned the decision with an editorial titled “Free the Irvine 11.”
Now Jewish Voice for Peace has come out in support of the protesters by making the obvious point that there is clearly a double standard when Muslim-Americans exercise their right to free speech versus other Americans. The JVP Rabbincal Council released a statement that says in part:
It is clear that there are double standards for protest in the United States. Last November, the members of Young, Jewish and Proud, the young activist arm of Jewish Voice for Peace, were let go after similarly disrupting a speech by the Israeli Prime Minister in front of a much larger audience in New Orleans. Instead of facing sanctions or criminal charges, their actions were lauded by many writers in Israeli and Jewish papers and news outlets across the world. In stark contrast, 11 Muslim students faced unprecedented sanctions both at the University of California and now from the office of the District Attorney which has empaneled a grand jury.
Apart from being deeply concerned by the actions of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, we want to express our support for the message of those who interrupted Ambassador Oren. We believe that four decades of the Israeli Occupation of Palestine calls us to interrupt business as usual. Students that stood in public and voiced their passionate concern over policies of siege, home demolition, targeted destruction of infrastructure and ongoing dispossession of people from their land had a right to confront Ambassador Oren, and hold him and his government accountable for actions that were deemed as war crimes by the Goldstone Report.
JVP has also organized a petition which has been signed by over 5,000 supporters who admit to also having interrupted a speaker or event to make a political point. The petition goes on to ask the DA to charge them as well if “interrupting injustice is now considered a crime.” The petition and the rabbi’s letter will be delivered to the Office of the Orange County District Attorney tomorrow by Rachel Roberts, who was part of a a group of young Jews who interrupted Netanyahu in New Orleans, and Estee Chandler, a JVP leader in Los Angeles.