Immediately following the convictions of the Irvine 11 students last Friday, student and activism groups across the US have condemned the guilty verdicts while pledging to stand in solidarity with the Irvine 11, defend free speech and protect the right to dissent.
More than 30 Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) university chapters nationwide signed onto a pledge over the weekend that stated, in full:
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.
The Irvine 11 should be commended for confronting Oren’s propaganda effort to whitewash Israel’s criminal actions and policies in front of college audiences. Instead, they have been unjustly punished for constitutionally-protected dissent that is a routine part of student activism, including here at Harvard.
On November 23, 2009, Harvard students also staged a walk-out of a speech by Oren at the Harvard Kennedy School. Last year, AIDS activists from Harvard and other colleges heckled and interrupted President Obama while he spoke in Boston. In neither case were students punished for exercising their right to protest.
… We call on students to support the Irvine 11 as they move ahead in appealing this unjust verdict. Further, we call on students to redouble their Palestine solidarity efforts. This attack only reinforces the urgency of continuing to organize in support of equality, justice and freedom for Palestinians and all oppressed peoples.
Meanwhile, interfaith organizations say they continue their committment to solidarity and support of the Irvine 11 and the right to free speech for everyone.
Jewish Voice for Peace posted its statement over the weekend, which read, in part:
This is a shameful day for the legal system and the Jewish communal leaders who actively supported this unfair railroading of young Muslim students and unprecedented attack on everyone’s right to free speech. How can it be that the Israeli ambassador enjoys more rights in the United States than do young Muslim citizens?
We hope this prompts some real soul searching among those who actively supported the case against the Irvine students simply because they didn’t like what the students had to say about Israel’s human rights record.
The principle of free expression for even unpopular speech, as it applies to all people, is fundamental to democracy. And it is never, ever OK to allow or support the unjust targeting of a minority group — which is what happened here. And frankly, as a religious and ethnic minority who was once a largely young immigrant population, Jews of all people should understand the need to protect minority rights.
And J. Jon Bruno, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles/Orange County, had this to say about the convictions and the need for interfaith solidarity:
Obviously in light of the Irvine 11 verdicts there is an immediate need for improved listening to one another across faith traditions and reaching a new place of mutual respect. Today I am calling upon fellow Orange County bishops, rabbis, and Islamic leaders to come together immediately in renewed solidarity to address the issues and injustices raised in relation to these verdicts. Our Episcopal congregations will also increase participation in the Shura Council’s Open Mosque Day on October 16 to demonstrate our understanding that Islam is at its core a religion of peace within our shared Abrahamic tradition, and deserving of equal protection under First Amendment freedoms.
For more on the Irvine 11 solidarity campaign, visit the Stand With the Eleven website at www.irvine11.com.