UC Irvine’s Muslim Student Union possibly suspended for 1 year for Israeli ambassador protest

When is the last time you heard of a student group being suspended for a year for doing what student groups do all the time-protesting a speaker? Probably never. And therein lies the question– some members of the Muslim Student Union (MSU) of UC Irvine planned to disrupt Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s talk at the campus. Eleven of them did so and were peacefully escorted out of the room by security, one by one. The plan was discussed on the MSU e-list but planned separately, according to the students’ attorney Reem Salahi. In fact, MSU members were divided on the protest so did not endorse it.

And yet, as UC Irvine’s Daily Pilot reports: “A UC Irvine student conduct committee has recommended suspending the Muslim Student Union, following repeated disruptions by several of its members during a February speech by the Israeli ambassador, a campus spokeswoman said. The recommendation has not taken effect because the student group has appealed the decision, said UCI spokeswoman Cathy Lawhon.”

If something seems off here, the Los Angeles Times thinks so too in UC Irvine protest case raises questions about discipline practices. They say “Experts say it’s unusual for a whole group to be sanctioned in civil disobedience cases.” Indeed. Is such a judgment fair or consistent? And if not, why not?

Attorney Reem Salahi responds with this damning litany of hypocrisy:

The University’s disciplinary recommendation never explains why the alleged violations and particularly the alleged lie justifies the massive, unprecedented sanction that the University has levied against the MSU.  In the past, UCI has permitted protestors to disrupt speakers by heckling, breaking into song and even, on one occasion, allowing an organized group of students to surround an MSU speaker critical of Israel with posters and continually shout him down to the point that he was unable to be heard. Neither these students nor their respective organizations were administratively sanctioned. Similarly egregious protests have taken place at the different UCs with little to no administrative response.

At UC Riverside earlier this academic year, Republican students shouted down and visually blocked a panel of speakers. These students espoused hate speech and yelled homophobic and racist epithets at the panelists.  Police and administrators stood by and permitted the presentation to be thoroughly disrupted for over an hour.  They made no attempt to detain, arrest or identify those students, even though the faculty speakers and others present could readily identify them.  Nor did they conduct an investigation, punish them, or punish the campus organization with which these disorderly students were associated. Similarly at UC Berkeley, pro Israeli students interrupted a distinguished pro-Palestinian scholar and UN Special Rapporteur using a bullhorn after they were explicitly told by the police not to do so. They were not arrested and following an internal investigation, no disciplinary sanctions were levied. So, while the University preaches the “marketplace of ideas,” the disparate treatment of those who speak on the wrong side of the Israel/Palestine question reveals the weakness of the University’s commitment to this ideal.

Instead, UCI deflects attention from its obvious bias by accusing the MSU of “lying”. The disciplinary recommendation focuses on whether or not the MSU as a body lied, apparently in an attempt to justify the sanction against the body as a whole.  But it ignores the fact that the MSU’s president made clear to the University that individual students would protest the Ambassador’s speech.  While some MSU members were involved in the protests, the protests were organized separate from the general MSU meetings and involved a coalition of individuals. Due to the significant disagreement within the MSU, amongst other reasons, the MSU did not endorse the protest. The evidence that the University cites in its report does not reflect these sentiments and the lack of consensus. Nor does it show how the individual students, some of whom were members of the MSU, organized separately from the general MSU meetings.  Yet now the University is maintaining that its draconian recommendation is justified based on the neutral application of policy. The University’s recommendation is not neutral and is unjustifiable.

UC Irvine’s MSU has been the target of outside Israel advocacy groups for some time, as The Forward reports. To be fair, MSU as a whole has shown terribly poor judgment by inviting a marginal hate-monger named Amir Abdel Malik Ali to speak on campus year after year (what does it say that he is virtually unheard of in the Israeli-Palestinian justice movement here in his hometown of Oakland, but has found a privileged speaking spot 7 hours to the south in Orange County.)

There are videos on Youtube featuring his hate-filled speeches, including a clip of a Palestinian woman yelling at him for putting hate into the minds of Muslim kids. How giving this man a platform in any way furthers the aims of the MSU is beyond me- it would be helpful to open up dialogue between progressive Jewish students and MSU members for starters. Reflecting back what has become all-too common anti-Muslim hatred and conspiracy theories with the same hateful mirror image just can’t be justified on any level.

Of course, like it or not (and I don’t), students still have the right to invite hate-mongers: Infamous Islamophobe Daniel Pipes and company probably make quite a nice sum on campus speaking fees. Same for Ann Coulter, David Horowitz and many others, all very popular speakers on the conservative campus circuit. As far as I know, no group has been suspended for inviting them.

But really, this has nothing to do with Ali. And it shouldn’t. This is about a student protest against the Israeli Ambassador -who, by the way, is paid to defend the policies of a government that shows so little respect for Palestinian life that high level officials joke about the Gaza blockade as “putting them on a diet.” Ambassador Oren, in the end, was able to complete his talk. Will MSU be able to complete next year? We’ll let you know when the appeals process is done. In the meantime, did the ongoing Israel and Jewish advocacy group campaigns against MSU have a role in the draconian recommendation?

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