February 8, 2011
UC Irvine-One Year Later: Watershed Prosecution of Protesters Who Blocked Israel Ambassador’s Speech
On February 8th 2010, eleven Muslim student protesters repeatedly disrupted a speech by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren at University of California, Irvine. Nearly 700 people had assembled for this lawful meeting, which was co-sponsored by various organizations including UCI’s School of Law and Anteaters for Israel. The yelling and jeering went on and on, to the point that Ambassador Oren had to leave the podium, and cancel the planned question-and-answer period. Anyone who views the shocking on-line videos of this organized disturbance can readily see the malevolent intent to stop Mr. Oren from being heard.
The Orange County District Attorney’s office recently filed criminal charges – conspiracy to disrupt a meeting - against the protesters because there was an organized attempt, through emails and other means, to willfully disturb, disrupt, and squelch the invited speaker. The Simon Wiesenthal Center commends the actions of the Orange County District Attorney’s office.
In an exclusive interview about this watershed case with, SWC Campus Outreach Director Rabbi Aron Hier, Orange County DA Tony Rackauckas explains his decision to file charges:
1) As the District Attorney of one of the largest counties in America, why is this case important to prosecute?
Orange County is the second largest county in California and the 26th largest county in the United States. This case involves a clear violation of law where a group of people conspired to interrupt a lawful meeting and violated the First Amendment rights of the speaker and the hundreds who gathered to listen.
2) What effects do such disruptions have on a civil/lawful society?
We must decide if we are going to support and defend the Constitution or not.
We need to have a society where if someone commits a crime, they are prosecuted.
3) What do you hope to accomplish with a successful prosecution of this case?
We want to hold those responsible who committed a crime.
4) What is your response to those critics who say that such legal action will have a chilling effect on the freedom of speech on campuses?
That is silly. If Ku Klux Klan members had conspired to shut down a lawful meeting with a speaker who is Muslim or Jewish or African-American, then the same people would be outraged and demand prosecution. Hundreds of people who felt the same way as the defendants were not prosecuted because their speech did not violate the law and they did not commit a crime. There were many alternative ways to have their viewpoints heard. For example, silently hand out leaflets, protest outside, protest with signs, ask pointed questions during the allotted time, hand out leaflets. Clearly, the people who share the defendants’ beliefs were not afraid to protest the District Attorney’s Office just a few days prior to the filing of the case.
The OCDA will file a case if a crime has been committed based on the facts and the applicable law. We will not be bullied by any individuals or groups.