Tension between pro-Palestine and pro-Israel students at UC Irvine flared up again on Tuesday, when hundreds of activists participated in spontaneous “dueling demonstrations” in front of the UCI administration building.
A “speak out” rally supporting the “Irvine 11,” the group of students arrested last month after disrupting Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s speech at UCI, turned into a march down UCI’s Ring Road. The march stopped at the entrance to the administration building and the two opposing crowds engaged in a shouting and chanting match.
Demonstrators chanted, sung, danced and eventually participated in heated face-to-face discussions.
“It was an example of free speech at its most dramatic,” said Cathy Lawhon, University spokeswoman.
Each group initially attempted to chant louder and longer than the other.
“We were louder than the Zionist voice,” said Ryan Davis, a UCI student and one of the leaders of the pro-Palestinian crowd, which outnumbered the pro-Israeli students.
“It was civil discourse of two different opinions,” said Shalom C. Elcott, CEO of the Jewish Foundation of Orange County, describing the event, “Although, there was a lack of factual dialogue.”
Students, teachers, alumni and representatives from outside interest groups such as the Jewish Federation of Orange County and the National Lawyers Guild began marching after participating in a “speak out” in the UCI student center.
The “speak out,” sponsored by the Black Student Union but organized by a “coalition” of different student groups, protested a recent statement issued by University of California President Mark Yudof that condemned the Michael Oren protest alongside the recent racist incidents at UCSD and UC Davis including the “Compton Cookout.”
Student organizers objected to the statement, signed by the chancellors of every UC campus, claiming that the “Irvine 11” protest is unrelated to the acts of racism at Davis and San Diego and involves completely different issues.
“They are trying to draw a connection between the ‘Irvine 11’ and racism,” said Marya Bangee, a UCI alumni and member of Stand with the 11, an advocacy group for the arrested protesters, “(The Irvine 11 issue) is about free speech and student activism.”
According to the Feb. 26 letter, the leaders of the University of California “condemned all acts of racism, intolerance and incivility. “Regardless of how such offenses are rationalized…”
The statement, according to UCI spokesperson Cathy Lawhon, was written to address the recent controversial events on UC campuses in general and not focus on a specific scandal.
“The letters that the chancellors and the president signed on Friday were meant to condemn a continuum of behavior that is seen as problematic, and the students that are supporting those arrested at the Michael Oren event clearly don’t think those actions fall on that continuum,” said Lawhon.
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