Was Oren really denied a voice? SJP responds to Irvine 11 convictions

Students for Justice in Palestine has released a statement in support of the Irvine 11 students charged with conspiring to disrupt and then disrupting a speech given by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren. What makes this statement particularly impressive is not just SJP’s understanding of its responsibility as a model awareness organization on college campuses but also its ability to rush to the sides of other activists while allocating almost all of its resources to the organization of a national conference.

The statement, which can be found in full here or at the end of this post, makes a number of important points. My personal favorite deals with the claim that Oren was kept from delivering his message.

It is inconceivable to suggest that Ambassador Oren, who has published four opinion-editorials in the New York Times alone and can easily command the attention of newspapers and television crews, has been denied a voice. On the other hand, it is routine for Palestinians to be silenced by the military and government that he represents without any media attention. The Irvine 11 shed light on the Palestinian voices constantly excluded from the media and public discourse.

Here is the full statement. SJPs all across the nation have endorsed it already or are endorsing it in real time.

“Ordinarily, a person leaving a courtroom with a conviction behind him would wear a somber face.  But I left with a smile.  I knew that I was a convicted criminal, but I was proud of my crime. It was the crime of joining my people in a nonviolent protest against injustice.“

— Martin Luther King, Jr. (Case No. 7399, convicted of “violating the state (of Alabama)’s anti-boycott law,” March 22, 1956, from Stride Toward Freedom: the Montgomery Story.)

We join our voices with the unjustly charged and convicted Irvine 11, who dared to draw attention to Israel’s war crimes. Orange County District Attorney, Tony Rackauckus, has punished students who care about the world enough to try to change it. The 11 students refused to remain silent when Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren spoke at the University of California, Irvine in February 2010. Their brief outbursts, at best representing protected First Amendment speech and at worst harmless civil disobedience, have led to McCarthyistic misdemeanor charges. On September 23, 2011, an Orange Country jury found them “guilty.”

We unequivocally condemn these charges, which unfairly single out and criminalize Muslim students who chose to exercise their First Amendment right to speak out against Israel’s human rights abuses. Had the speaker not been Israeli, had the issue not been Palestine, had the students not been Muslim, these charges never would have been pursued. Rather, these charges reflect a climate of Islamophobia and an irrational exceptionalism for Israel when it comes to free speech. The charges chill the free exchange of ideas and students’ right to protest at universities nationwide.

It is our right and duty to speak out against Israel’s egregious violations of international law and Palestinian rights.  The American government gives Israel over three billion dollars a year in military aid and is therefore directly responsible for Israel’s actions. We are troubled by the increased suppression of student voices in support of the Palestinian struggle for freedom. Student groups around the country continue to be targeted for their criticisms of Israeli governmental policies. University administrators find themselves under intense pressure from the Israel Lobby when pro-Palestine events occur on campus. It comes in the form of public smearing, alumni pressure, and frivolous lawsuits, as well as U.S. Department of Education investigations that seek to classify criticism of Israel as a violation of students’ civil rights. But it is the criminal prosecution of the Irvine 11 and the silencing of student activists everywhere that violate our civil rights.

It is inconceivable to suggest that Ambassador Oren, who has published four opinion-editorials in the New York Times alone and can easily command the attention of newspapers and television crews, has been denied a voice. On the other hand, it is routine for Palestinians to be silenced by the military and government that he represents without any media attention. The Irvine 11 shed light on the Palestinian voices constantly excluded from the media and public discourse.

To the Irvine 11: you are not alone. Like Dr. King wrote of his own unjust verdict, this week in September, the court convicted more than just you; it convicted every student dedicated to upholding human rights and ending injustice. We commend you for your courage and moral clarity. We know that the Irvine 11 are convicted criminals—but we are proud of their crime.

“…Instead of stopping the movement, the opposition’s tactics had only served to give it greater momentum, and to draw us closer together. What the opposition failed to see was that our mutual sufferings had wrapped us all in a single garment of destiny. What happened to one happened to all.”

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

There is one comment

  1. Joe Kelsall

    There is no doubt in my simple Irish mind, that these convictions were arrived at by ‘Jim Crow’ jurists whose hatred of Muslims has been encouraged by the US government, AIPAC and Christians United for Israel. It is, however, a good thermometer of judging the degree to which the USA public has been reduced to McCartyism. The silencing of people by lawyers, jailers and writs. America is on a downward slope with a soapy surface. Have a nice trip!

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