February 12, 12:20 AMLA Middle Eastern Policy Examiner
One doesn’t want to invoke George Orwell lightly. But there is something positively Orwellian about defending, in the name of freedom of speech, a gang’s attempt to shut down a speech.
The facts are these:
Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, was invited to speak at the University of California Irvine. The invitation came from the Law School and the Political Science Department. Now, UC Irvine has an active–some would say, aggressive (others would say, obnoxious)–chapter of the Muslim Student Union. The UCI MSU has a, shall we say, controversial history, ranging from allegedly fundraising for Hamas to hosting virulently anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic speakers.
Enter the double standard. The MSU feels perfectly free to bring to campus speakers that Jews, friends of Israel, and others consider absolutely repulsive. And it has the right to do so (aside from providing material support to terrorists, which is forbidden by federal law). But when the MSU considers a speaker not to be kosher (as it were), it seeks to disrupt his appearance.
Thus, the MSU reacted to Oren’s approaching visit to UC Irvine with a February 8 release:
The members of the Muslim Student Union at the University of California, Irvine, condemn and strongly oppose the presence of Michael Oren on our campus today. We resent that the Law School and the Political Science Department have agreed to cosponsor a public figure who represents a state that continues to commit human rights violations, thereby breaking international law and law of Israeli accord [sic]. 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. . . .
As people of conscience, we oppose Michael Oren’s invitation to our campus. Propagating murder is not a responsible expression of free speech. Oren and his partners should only be granted a speakers platform in the International Criminal Court and should not be honored on our campus.
When Ambassador Oren took the podium that evening, there was what some members of the audience called “a coordinated attack.” As reported in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal:
With rumors circulating of students’ plans to disrupt Oren’s speech, university officials spoke to MSU members before the event in an attempt to ensure civil discourse, according to Shalom C. Elcott, Chief Executive Officer of the Jewish Federation Orange County. . . .
Oren, a New Jersey native and best-selling author of two authoritative books on the Middle East, was less than two minutes into his talk when the first heckler jumped up and shouted, ”Propagating murder is not an expression of free speech,” followed by thunderous applause and cheers from protesters seated in groups throughout the audience. Oren continued to talk, only to be interrupted every few minutes by another protester and more cheering and boos. Many audience members also cheered Oren.
By the third interruption, police began escorting individual protesters out of the room.
Oren had to leave the stage for twenty minutes. Police arrested eleven people, including the president of the MSU. UCI Chancellor Michael Drake lamented: “The principles that make us a great university have been violated this evening.”
A grim moment for an institution dedicated to freedom of thought. Now here’s the truly scary bit. The Muslim Public Affairs Council wrote a letter to Chancellor Drake. Did the letter deplore the thuggish behavior of the Muslim students? We should be so lucky. No, the letter asks Drake to investigate the arrests, because the hecklers were exercising their First Amendment rights: