Faculty at the University of California, Riverside (UCR), joined voices at UC campuses statewide in support of 11 students arrested for heckling Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren during his Feb. 8 speech at the University of California, Irvine (UCI).
Thirty-one professors and graduate students from several UCR departments signed a “Statement on Free Speech, Palestine and the ‘UC Irvine 11,’ ” drafted by Dylan Rodriguez, chair of the university’s Ethnic Studies department. The March 11 pronouncement calls on the UC administration and the Orange County district attorney’s office to drop disciplinary and punitive action against eight UCI and three UCR students, which it calls “discriminatory, cynical, and politically and intellectually repressive.”
The UCI students have been charged with violations of the student codes of conduct. Officials at UCR could not confirm whether action would be taken against their students.
“We believe that this is a cynical and opportunistic attempt at political repression that reflects the racial criminalization of young Arab, Middle Eastern and Muslim men and women as actual or potential ‘terrorists.’ By way of contrast, Ethnic Studies faculty have taught courses in Ethnic Studies in which classroom proceedings were disrupted by students with opposing views, and the university administration did not pursue any disciplinary or punitive measures against them. In fact, we have sometimes been told that such disruptions are an expression of academic free speech,” the statement said.
Rodriguez said the statement was intended to take issue with the tendency, since at least 2001, to affiliate Muslim men with terrorism within popular discourse, as well as to challenge what he sees as selective enforcement of codes of conduct by university administrators.
“People protesting is something to be expected,” he said, noting that UCR administrators did not take disciplinary action against what he called “conservative” student protesters following a similar incident last fall. “When people get selectively subjugated to enforcement of codes of conduct, it has a chilling affect on political discussion and freedom.”
Muslim students and their supporters say they were exercising their free speech rights when they interrupted and jeered Oren 10 times before leaving the hall to stage a demonstration outside, a claim that has been rejected by legal scholars, including Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of UCI law school. Student governments at four UC campuses — Irvine, San Diego, Los Angeles and Berkeley — have issued statements opposing sanctions against the 11 students. In contrast, a March 2 statement by UCI’s Council on Faculty Welfare, Diversity and Academic Freedom expressed the council’s commitment “to creating an atmosphere in which the examination of competing ideas can occur without disruption or intimidation.”
Also on March 15, a group calling itself “Stand With the Eleven” issued a response to a March 8 letter to UCI students by Oren, in which he stated his willingness to return to campus for a respectful dialogue with students of opposing viewpoints on Middle East issues. The response, which claims to accept Oren’s offer, accuses Israel of being a modern-day colonialist state and implicitly equates Israeli policy with apartheid.
“We willingly take you up on that offer. But to clarify, our willingness does not stem from any delusional notion that your words can right the decades of wrong and injustice. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Your military past with the Israeli ‘Defense’ Force and your current position as the official representative of a state before the U.N.
General Assembly on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity speak louder than any ‘remarks’ you can make.”