In February, 2011, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren walked to the podium at the University of California, Irvine to give a speech.
It was not to be.
In the crowd were Muslims who were intent on shouting down Oren. Eleven times an individual student would rise and shout at the Ambassador. Shouts of “Michael Oren, propagating murder is not an expression of free speech!” and “how many Palestinians did you kill?” rained down on Oren as he he tried to speak. As each person was led away by the police, the pro-Palestinian members of the audience clapped, stomped, hollered and boo’ed to the point where the speech was ended early.
One of the Chancellors of the school repeatedly told the crowd that if they continued to disrupt the event, they would be arrested and charged.
And that is exactly what happened.
Eleven people were arrested that February night and charged with misdemeanors.
Not surprisingly, the 11 claimed they were exercising their First Amendment rights of free speech. After dropping the charges against one of the men, Prosecutor Dan Wagner went ahead with a trial against the remaining eleven.
On September 23, 2011, Judge Peter J. Wilson found the men guilty.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter J. Wilson sentenced the defendants to 56 hours of community service and three years of informal probation. The judge found that the incident did not merit jail time and he added that the probation period would be reduced to one year if the community service is completed by the end of January 2012. Minimal court fines and fees were also assessed against the 10.
The prosecutor claimed the men’s actions were not an exercise of their First Amendment rights, but a concerted effort to deny the remaining people in the audience and Ambassador Oren their same First Amendment rights. Wagner argued the First Amendment was in place to facilitate and encourage the free exchange of ideas. He further contended the men conspired to deny Oren and others rights to exchange ideas by disrupting the speech.
And Wagner had the emails sent between the men to prove it.
After the trial and the small sentences, the 10 men and their lawyers claimed they were the victims.
Shakeel Syed of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California said he was shocked.
“This is yet another reaffirmation that Islamophobia is intensely and extensively alive and thriving in Orange County,” he said. “I believe this will be used as precedent now to suppress speech and dissent throughout the country. This is the beginning of the death of democracy.”
Yep. The rights of others are allowed to be attacked and suppressed by these guys and if you think differently, you are Islamaphobic.
Or a racist.
Or a bigot.
Or a tea bagger.
Or whatever else can be thought of to attack you instead of answering your opinion.
Heaven forbid that these guys ever take responsibility for their own actions.
And of course, there are those who believe that the deliberate disruption of a speech denying others the exchange of ideas is a good thing.
A coalition of Muslim and Christian community leaders denounced the verdict and vowed to stand by the students. They praised the students’ courage for standing up to Oren and protesting the Israeli government’s actions in Gaza in the tradition of American civil rights leaders.
“This attack against Muslim students and the Muslim community is an attack on democracy. It’s an attack on all of us,” Father Wilfredo Benitez, rector of St. Anselm of Canterbury Episcopal Church in Garden Grove. “It’s an attack on all of us. It’s an attack on all those people who believe in the U.S. Constitution and freedom of speech.”
Obviously we here are Raised on Hoecakes are fans of the First Amendment. Yet the First Amendment, like any natural right, is not absolute. Your right to free speech ends at our collective noses. We are not talking about speech that may be considered “offensive,” or even “offending.” We are talking about the exchange of ideas. If the Muslim students were so upset with Ambassador Oren, why not confront the man during the scheduled question and answer period? Instead, the mob decided not only did they not want to hear what Oren had to say, they would attempt to prevent others from hearing Oren.
Quite simply, that is cowardly.
There are a few lessons that are learned or reinforced from this incident.
1) there are certain groups that are against the First Amendment applying to you, but demand its protection for them.
2) there are certain groups that, when having been found guilty of wrong doing, will claim they were persecuted for some reason.
3) colleges are not the bastion of free speech they once were.
The videos below capture the incident from February 2010.
This is what occurred during the speech:
Please note what happens at 6 minutes 40 seconds of the above video. A man stands and starts to shout. Notice that he is holding a note in his hand. Talking points? Coordination with other people ready to disrupt the proceedings? Or is the guy too stupid not to remember what he wants to shout out?
And this is after the disruptions and the crowd left.
At the end of the first video, and after the pro-Palestine crowd leaves, Ambassador Oren says:
“I know you think this is strange, but I really wish they would have stayed.
I appreciate you all, but it was that community I wanted to address as well. It is important that they hear, as I listen to them in Washington.
Which leads to the question: “Who is really interested in the First Amendment? Those who look to shut down dissenting voices, or those who wish to exchange ideas?”
We know our answer.