Irvine 11 students were not practicing free speech

In February 2010, 11 University of California, Irvine students from the Muslim Student Union disrupted a speech given by Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, to students and members of the community at UC Irvine.

Jovanna Tosello | Daily Trojan

The 11 students were arrested on the spot, and the Muslim Student Union, which was proven to have carefully crafted the fiasco, was later placed on a quarter-long suspension and two-year probation by university administration.

The students now face misdemeanor charges in court.

Some have claimed the punishment is unfounded, characterizing the event as nothing more than an expression of free speech and dissent, however inappropriate it might have been.

To punish the dissenters would therefore be setting a dangerous precedent, potentially limiting the expression of free speech on campuses in the future.

Though this sounds like a good story line, nothing could be further from the truth.

The disruptors engaged in an orchestrated attempt to silence a person with whom they happened to disagree.

They were neither expressing their opinions nor protesting, but attempting to shut down speech entirely.

One by one, each of the 11 students in the audience individually rose to shout at the ambassador as he attempted to speak, and one by one each was escorted out, only to be followed by other interruptions minutes later.

In the words of Erwin Chemerinksy, dean of the UC Irvine School of Law, “The Muslim Student Union orchestrated a concerted effort to disrupt the speech. One student after another stood and shouted so that the ambassador could not be heard. Each student was taken away only to be replaced by another doing the same thing.”

What occurred that night was a calculated act of censorship, and the only free speech violated was that of Oren and the members of his audience.

Defenders of the Irvine 11 refer to the First Amendment and then proceed to defend and vindicate the 11 students in a twisted and perverse mockery of the principle of free speech.

There is a clear distinction between the occasional heckling protester and an organized, coordinated effort to prevent someone from speaking — in this instance, it was the latter.

The behavior displayed by the 11 students represents the antithesis of a university as a place where the free exchange of ideas can occur, and it is fortunate UC Irvine and the district attorney have chosen to handle the matter with such resolve.

To have done anything less would have sent the dangerous message that it is acceptable to silence the voices of those with whom you disagree.

A university should refuse to tolerate this kind of behavior.

What level of punishment the students deserve is a matter of the court, but what is absolutely clear to any observer is the repulsive nature of the act.

It is especially unfortunate because those 11 students might have learned a thing or two from the Princeton-educated historian and foreign policy expert had they bothered to hear him out.

The YouTube video tells the full story of students who were combative, instead of the popular story line that says they were peaceful protestors.

Those 11 students embarrassed themselves and put their entire university to shame. They did not exercise their right to free speech, but wrongly manipulated the First Amendment to defend themselves.


Justin Davidoff is a junior majoring in business administration. 

49 replies
    • James
      James says:

      Good comment! You obviously have no idea how to use the comment box.

      This article was spot-on. Maybe you’re just upset that you can’t dispute it.

  1. Trojan Alumn
    Trojan Alumn says:

    Not to change the subject but you say that a University is a place for a free exchange of ideas. What I constantly see is liberal students shouting down conservative speakers with no consequences whatsoever. Many times the faculty that has brainwashed these students are also involved and again, no consequences. We also see times where liberal students protest conservative commencement speakers on college campuses…where is the free exchange?
    When these free-thinking, tolerant students set a better example of listening to somebody that THEY may not agree with then maybe others will notice.

  2. Eyad
    Eyad says:

    Almost 2 years ago we had a panel here at USC discussing the 2009 Gaza conflict. The panel (moderated by Dr. Laurie Brand director of the School of International Relations) was made up of Israeli and Arab students who had experiences with the issue. I was one of the speakers that day. We were expecting to see a big number of students from Hillel and SC students for Israel (among other pro -Israel students) at the event. However, what we were not expecting, was their demeanor that day. Every time one of the Arab students, including myself, had something to say, the pro-Israel students made sure he/she had a hard time talking. Even, the moderator, Dr. Brand, was also heckled every time she tried to intervene in order to stop the disruptions. Needless to say, it was very frustrating for the speakers and Dr. Laurie.

    I guess the pro-Israel students were protected by their right to free speech that day. It seems that this right is only justifiable if you re on the right side of the argument. I am sorry, but arguing that these students deserved the verdict simply because they had prior-intentions of their actions, then I guess this would criminalizes any person who plans, organizes, and participates in planned public demonstrations. What good is your interpretation of the right to free speech if it precludes organized public demonstration?? Isn’t that essentially the whole purpose behind the freedom of speech?

    • Jack
      Jack says:

      Nice try using a personal story. I’ve been to many events like that and never seen pro-Israel students behaving anything like those 11 Muslim students. Sure, sometimes there are a few hecklers, but never a coordinated attempt to disrupt someones speech.

      • William Buttrey
        William Buttrey says:

        At Dr. Finkelstein’s talk here recently on Operation Cast Lead (“This Time We Went Too Far”), the students in opposition to his poistion walked out in unison as a protest (slight disruption but a disruption nonetheless). There were only a few opposition students to ask questions and he went out of his way to make sure that they had the first opportunity to do so. I’m guessing that Amb. Oren was not about to be as gracious. Someone wrote that he had to leave to catch a Lakers game. I’m glad that good seats for NBA basketball are a higher priority to him than fairly addressing the issues of apartheid that he remains a prominent apologist for. It’s not like lives are on the line or anything.

  3. William Buttrey
    William Buttrey says:

    Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. ~ John F. Kennedy

    Some people seem to want it both ways. I was the advisor to a student atheist group (no longer active) years ago. I tried to get co-sponsors to get a discussion panel going that would include Dr. Norman Finkelstein. I was told specifically by the other side that they were not interested, and when I inquired as to what the problem with Dr. Finkelstein was, the answer was simply, “Alan Dershowitz doesn’t like him.”

    Since that time other persistent student groups have been able to bring Dr. Finkelstein to campus (why isn’t he teaching here? – he’s indicated that he very fond of USC and its student body) a number of times, and a complaint made was that it presents only one side of the story. This seemed extremely disingenuous to me, as when the opportunity was not only provided, but was made requesting such participation in the first place, it was rejected in no uncertain terms.

    For those wanting to get an idea of what a genuine exchange has the potential of delivering, please do a search for –

    – Norman Finkelstein reviews Michael Oren’s Six Days of War –

    You’ll find it at a site created by the survivors of the USS Liberty, who are also much maligned and have gone virtually without anyone fighting for their right to have their message heard. In fact just the opposite. They went through proper channels to file a war crimes report. Filing this report is meant to bring about specific investigations to determine the validity of the report.

    Their responsibility was not to prove their case with the report they filed, but to provide enough substance that an investigation of war crimes was initiated. This was not done.

    The Irvine 11 got their “day in court” that a lot of similar protests were not subjected to. A group seeking their day in court, is denied it, though the law indicates that should be not be the case.

    Cui bono?

  4. TMS
    TMS says:

    The “Irvine 11” and the muslum student union and their supporters just don’t get it, because they continue to show a lack of any understanding of the 1st Amendment and the rights in America that they seek to trample upon. As Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of UC Irvine’s law school, so aptly stated, “There’s no free speech right to disrupt an event. … It’s not a matter of free speech because there’s no free speech right to shut someone down.” That is the fact none of these people can comprehend as they blindly shout that their 1st Amendment Rights are somehow violated.

    The simple concept that they cannot comprehend is that while they had every right to hold a peaceful protest outside the event (but that is not the type of people they are, nor the the type of message or world they seek), they had no right to enter in order to disrupt and prevent the event. They showed they are actually opposed to free speech, not faslely claimed supporters of free speech. Democracy and free speech live, not die, by the correct verdict, and this was the correct verdict to protect democracy. If they held an event to support their rhetoric, and it was interrupted by a planned conspiracy to prevent their event and speech, they would want to have those responsible arrested. These people did not “st[and] up against the face of oppression” as they spout — they are seeking to oppress rights of others that they disagree with. It is called hypocrisy and is anti-American.

  5. Ferris
    Ferris says:

    Shouting down a speaker is not activism. Standing outside with prepared materials on your criticisms of the speaker to hand out is activism. Working to bring a Palestinian speaker to campus is activism. Having incisive questions prepared for Q&A is activism. Posting a rebuttal to the speaker’s points after the fact is activism.

    If this group had engaged in real activism, they could have enhanced the academic experience of our public universities instead of undermining it.

  6. Suzanne Crusty
    Suzanne Crusty says:

    These undeserving students should be thankful for the blessing of a world-class education, rather than disrupting a legitimate speaker with whom they disagree, and hiding behind “free speech.” If a similar disruption took place during their trial, the protestors would be thrown in jail.

  7. Sulaiman Syed
    Sulaiman Syed says:

    “It is especially unfortunate because those 11 students might have learned a thing or two from the Princeton-educated historian and foreign policy expert had they bothered to hear him out.

    The YouTube video tells the full story of students who were combative, instead of the popular story line that says they were peaceful protestors.”

    These two parts of the article are the most ridiculous and ignorant. The first quote shows that the writer has minimal or no understanding of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and it’s history. These students (whether the writer agrees or not) were speaking out against someone they felt was a murderer. I know a few of the students. Some of them lost relatives in the bombing of Gaza. They have legitimate grievances. To boldly state that they “could have learned a thing or two” is blatantly ignorant. Regardless of whether he was Princeton Educated or from DeVry Institute…the students felt he was a murderer.

    The second quote also shows lack of understanding of non-violent or peaceful protest. Protesters throughout history did not, for the most part, stay peaceful aka polite/respectful. Gandhi himself was noted to be very aggressive in his tactics. Peaceful refers to the non-violent nature of protest…these students did not pick up weapons.

    As for the freedom of speech issue…It’s a hard decision to make. The Muslim Student Union was singled out by the school and silenced even before the event. The president of the MSU was personally called and told not to demonstrate. This is a limitation of free speech as well. Although willingly trying to silence someone you don’t agree with also seems like a limitation of free speech.

    • so so fresh
      so so fresh says:

      The students may think Michael Oren is a murder or war criminal or whatever else they would like to think. They are free to think whatever they please.

      They could have exercised their rights of free speech and demonstrated outside the event.

      The students were wrong to prevent a speaker invited to the campus from speaking and being heard. And the Muslim Student Union acted inappropriately in coordinating this and in misrepresenting its involvement to University officials.

      If someone like Salam Fayyad came to speak on the campus and a Jewish group planned to stay for the majority of the program with intent and did disrupt his lecture throughout the entire lecture, I know plenty of Jewish people with relatives in Israel would be very upset.

  8. Doug
    Doug says:

    This article is chauvinistic and ridiculous. The defense determined that the total time taken by the Irvine 11 to peacefully protest in an organized fashion was only 2% of the entire presentation. Most of the disruption was due to the dean’s chauvinistic remarks toward the MSU during the meeting and the pro-Zionists’ jeering.

    Furthermore, Michael Oren left early to go to a Lakers game and was never planning on staying for Q&A in the first place. Oren limited participation more than the Irvine 11 did with his own selfish motives.

    Protests around the country involve disruption and no one is arrested or charged and they are organized in the same way the Irvine 11 organized their dissent.

    And this is all besides the point because I believe a racist and war criminal like Oren shouldn’t be permitted to speak at all. I wish they had shut him down. But the fact of the matter is they didn’t and all these right-wingers, including the more than likely Zionist author of this garbage, are leading a mob against peaceful protestors. Its selective punishment, its unjust.

    All charges should be dropped against the 11.

    • Marie
      Marie says:

      Of course the defense said it took 2% of the time….that’s what the defense is supposed to say! Watch the video and you’ll see differently.

      Michael Oren had another arrangement he had to go to, and yes he was going to do a Q&A but didn’t have time to because of the disruptions. Officials like him have schedules to keep to.

      Protests around the country involve disruption and a) often do lead to arrests b) each state has its own laws (shocker!) c) protests are often legally registered beforehand and d) disrupt once or twice but do not methodically attempt to stop someone from speaking.

      It is very good that a person like you who doesn’t understand the First Amendment in this country isn’t writing our laws. Michael Oren is not even close to a racist or war criminal. Like the article says he went to Princeton and is a historian representing a country. Even if he was a despicable human being, he has a right to free speech at his own event.

      Ever heard the phrase “I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it”? Guess that’s too far over your head Doug.

      All charges should be upheld.

      • xm
        xm says:

        It was not Michael Oren event. It was a one sided event sponsored by the University that is supposed to represent all sides of an issue.

        • Jack
          Jack says:

          You’re so utterly and completely wrong XM. It was a speaker event, nothing more nothing less. It was not a debate, forum, or anything of that sort. The university hosted it on campus, but that’s all.

          The students behavior was unacceptable and criminal, as the author adeptly explained.

    • so so fresh
      so so fresh says:

      “And this is all besides the point because I believe a racist and war criminal like Oren shouldn’t be permitted to speak at all.”

      This was all I needed to read. According to you only one perspective on the conflict has the right to be heard at UC Irvine.

  9. John
    John says:

    The video footage is at odds with the claims in this article. The students DID express their views in a PEACEFUL manner and did NOT shut down the speech. They interrupted the speech, but left after shouting a couple of sentences. The pro-Oren attendees were MORE disruptive than these 10 students.

    • Frank
      Frank says:

      He didn’t say they were violent John. And they did not leave after a couple sentences. They left after interrupting 11 separate times (duh). The pro-Oren attendees were “disruptive” only to make noise so that those thugs wouldn’t have a platform to yell.

      Don’t try to uncharacteristic what video. People all have eyes and can watch and see that you’re lying!

    • Marie
      Marie says:

      You are a typical idiot. Whether he was a “liar” or not makes absolutely no difference to this discussion. It’s about free speech and not silencing someone, whether you agree or disagree with him. Learn a thing or too.

  10. Aida
    Aida says:

    A misdemeanor? Are you serious? These kids had enough courage to make a statement on behalf of an issue they are strongly passionate about. Something we all forget to do. Maybe they went about it in a wrong way- nevertheless, kudos to them for having the courage to stand up, and stand out! That is how changes are made. A misdemeanor is a disgusting charge. But then again, so are the illegal settlements.

  11. Jett Rucker
    Jett Rucker says:

    The BREAKING UP last week of a press conference in Madison, Wisconsin OFF CAMPUS by demonstrators recruited by telephone by UNIVERSITY ADMINISTRATORS

    • Jett Rucker
      Jett Rucker says:

      resulted in no arrests. The press conference concerned racial discrimination on the part of admissions officials of the U of Wisconsin.

      So, is it the difference between Wisconsin and Orange County? The Ambassador from Israel and researchers presenting statistical findings? Both?

      These things make a difference(s), it would seem.

  12. Don Harmon
    Don Harmon says:

    Rude, nasty, uncivil and disruptive, but I suppose we should be grateful that they didn’t resort to throwing objects or worse violence.

  13. Jordan
    Jordan says:

    Watch the two videos. They aren’t nearly the same. Then again, people like you probably never listen to reason and that’s why you are on the wrong side of this argument.

  14. John
    John says:

    Wow, I must say that I’m impressed for once.
    I am a frequent critic of the Daily Trojan, and often find the opinion articles to often be unimaginative and poorly written. But here is an articulate, concise, and meaningful body of work.
    As for if I agree with the opinion, I’ll have to watch the YouTube video and see.

    Congrats DT on the job well done.

  15. amedeo lopez
    amedeo lopez says:

    These people actually eclipsed the free speech of others. I actually agree with their statements about Israel, and I would support their right to protest outside the meeting. However, your free speech ends when it impedes mine. There were reasonable alternatives given to these students to have a forum, they ignored the opportunity and instead chose to limit the speech of others. Regardless of the fact that I agree with them, I also have to agree with the DA that they went about the process all wrong. What’s more, it is classless to now claim ‘anti muslim persecution’ and victimhood status. This does nothing more than dilute the cases of the actual victims of Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

    • so so fresh
      so so fresh says:

      I may not agree with you but your comments give me great comfort.

      Thanks for posting. I have been reading up on this incident and you are a rare person who agrees with the students but also point out that their tactics were wrong because they violate the rights of others.

      I don’t know if the MSU has an official position on how to resolve the conflict. I do know they invite Abdul Malik Ali to speak on the campus every year. Aside from blaming zionist Jews for 911 to the Danish cartoons, Malik Ali openly supports Hamas. Hamas is committed to the destruction of Israel. I don’t know if that if that is the position that these students were standing up for so passionately (as some like to point out).

      I have read that Oren said he supported the two state solution during a lecture at UC Irvine in the past. That the position I hold.

      • xm
        xm says:

        And did u know that the College Republicans at UCI disrupted Abdul Malik Ali’s speach. Guess what ? No charges.

        Oren supported two state solution !!!!! Except he won’t tell us what the boundaries of Israel are !!!!

        • dogface
          dogface says:

          Barak offered borders. Clinton offered borders. Olmert offered borders. None were accepted by the Palestinian leaders. If Oren did say what thought the borders should be we wouldn’t know it if we watched the lecture at UC Irvine.

          The borders will have to be negotiated if there is going to be peace. Personally, I think the something close to Clinton Parameters is a just solution

          I’d need to get more details on the college Republican. They may have been douches too.

          If other student groups are a bunch of douchebags, it doesn’t make the Irvine 11 any less guilty of being douchebags.

          I don’t think the point of the article is that the students should be charged criminally. I took the main thesis of Justin’s essay as being that it is unacceptable to silence the voices of those with whom you disagree. A university should refuse to tolerate this kind of behavior.

  16. Estee Chandler
    Estee Chandler says:

    I missed Mr. Davoff’s Op/Ed describing why the 5 Jewish activists who shouted down Prime Minister Netanyahu in New Orleans Nov. 2010 should have had charges brought against them by a DA.

    • James
      James says:

      I don’t think Mr. Davidoff said how/to what degree he supports prosecution. He was just saying that what they did was wrong and definitely deserves punishment, however harsh the punishment might be.

      I’m not familiar with the incident you refer to, but did those activists take up 30-45 min with their protests like these students did? I doubt it.

    • Jonathan Mark
      Jonathan Mark says:

      Rae Abileah, 28, a member of Jewish Voice For Peace (JVP), disrupted PM Netanyahu’s address to Congress this spring by yelling and screaming. Capital police arrested Ms. Abileah for “disturbing Congress while it is in session” and “disorderly conduct.”

      Estee Chandler whose letter I am responding to is an official of JVP. knows Ms. Abileah and knows that Ms. Abileah was indeed arrested for disruption in DC.

      Disrupting lawful assemblies such as Amb. Oren’s speech is illegal in California. Some people who disrupt speeches get away with it, just as some people who engage in other crimes get away with those crimes as well. But Ms. Abileah did not get away with it, and there is no reason for anyone else to either.

      • Jonathan Mark
        Jonathan Mark says:

        A typo in the above message by me incorrectly states the nature of the charge against Ms. Abileah. She was charged with disrupting Congress, not disturbing it.

        Electronic Intifada: May 24, 2011 – “Abileah was charged with disorderly conduct and disrupting Congress, as she told Democracy Now on 25 May video and transcript.”

  17. so so fresh
    so so fresh says:

    Good piece.

    I read a story today where a defense attorney for the students, Jacqueline Goodman, has likened the 10 students to Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez.

    “It’s rude, absolutely,” Goodman said, referring to the 10 disruptions made by the students. “These are people who stood up because their conscience demanded it. The government wants you to call them criminals. They’re using all their might to call these extraordinary young men — these heroes — criminals.”

    See must be on some good drugs.

      • one
        one says:

        haha ha ha haha ha ha ha ummm not funny at all .. just because you disagree with someone doesn’t mean that he/she is on drugs. this just shows you narrow minded people cannot appreciate anyone else’s point of view except your own. Oren held a microphone..could’ve been brave enough to stop the arrests and address them. But he was on a mission to cover up Israel’s dirty work, that’s why he chose to continue with his pointless foreign minister jokes. You need to think of context to understand why the students did what they did. Oren was not “shut down”.. he cant possibly be shut down by 11 students.. he has the world’s media at his service. stop making the event sound like a person that 11 students “killed”.. its a stupid event with a powerful tyrant guest speaker who wasnt brave enough to face the truth

        • dogface
          dogface says:

          This is a classic post – Narrow minded people who cannot appreciate anyone else’s point of view? Hmmmm, that sound familiar…who are you trying to defend?

          The Irvine 11 did not go to the meeting with the goal of having a dialogue.

          From Michelle Woo’s article in the OC Weekly:

          One email contained the minutes from an MSU meeting, which stated that the goal of the protest was to “send the speaker a message” and show him that “he can’t just go to a campus and say whatever he wants.” Included were plans to “disrupt the whole event” and “shut down with individual disruption.”

          Okay, I am out. I’ll go back to watching porn and rubbing one out. This topic has lost my interest.

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