Mark LeVine, a professor of modern Middle Eastern history at UC Irvine said in 2007, about attempts to quell some initiatives taken by the MSU and other UCI organizations involved in anti-Israel activism:

“The only thing that would satisfy the critics now would be if they expelled every Muslim student and painted stars of David on all the buildings.”

So don’t be too surprised that he has written a lengthy article defending the 11 students, 8 from UCI and 3 from UC Riverside, who disrupted the Michael Oren talk at UCI a couple of weeks ago.

Before I proceed, however, I’d like to remind everybody of a couple of events led by students from the UCI MSU and other anti-Israel groups on that campus.

LeVine’s arguments on behalf of the disruptive students can be boiled down to:

1. Yes, the students intended to disrupt Oren’s speech but “not to…scuttle it.”

2. “UC Irvine’s policies on student conduct offer little guidance as to whether the protests against Oren’s speech crossed the line.” “Since Oren was not ultimately prevented from speaking, how the “Irvine 11” actually interfered with the university’s obligation to protect the Israeli ambassador’s 1st Amendment rights is unclear.

3. “The utter disparity in power between the students and the views they represent, and Oren and the government he represents.” “Oren’s appearance was part of a sophisticated effort by the Israeli government and its supporters to present Israel in the most positive light possible.”

4. “In fact, hard-line advocates for Israel aren’t strangers to “uncivil” behavior against adversaries.” He brings up “the Jerusalem-based World Union of Jewish Students’ “Hasbara Handbook” and explains that it encourages Jewish students to use negative language when referring to anti-Israel organizations. He then adds, “Given this, calling for a pound of flesh from the Muslim students for their protest seems disingenuous to say the least.”

5. “The chilling effect on free speech and dissent the response to the student protests could have on UC Irvine” because UCI sent out an email following the Oren event stating, “if anyone ‘without authority of law, willfully disturbs or breaks up any assembly or meeting that is not unlawful in its character . . .’ [they] can be charged with a misdemeanor.”

5 Continued: LeVine adds, “Imagine how a 19-year-old student would react to being told that she could be arrested and face expulsion from the university for merely engaging in vigorous protest against a speaker who supports forced female genital mutilation or the execution of homosexuals — or, more to the point, a speaker who represents a government that engaged in these practices.”

6. He concludes: “Marginalized voices sometimes have little recourse except to push the boundaries of polite debate to get their messages heard…In this case, the “Irvine 11” played into deeply ingrained stereotypes of irrational and unreasonably angry Muslim men. But should they be punished without clear standards in place and when similarly rowdy protests in the past led neither to arrests nor university discipline?

If I may, I’d like to respond to Professor LeVine, who actually claimed in 2007 that only Stars of David painted across UCI buildings would satisfy critics of anti-Israel advocates on campus and is now using the laden phrase “pound of flesh” to make his case (after the break).

1. LeVine has no idea whether the students intended to scuttle it or not. In fact, I would challenge that assertion. Since we’ve shown that at least 5 (and others claim all 8 ) of the students from UCI are MSU members, this letter to the editor of UC Irvine’s New University newspaper from the MSU indicates they believed Oren had no right of speech at all:

…We oppose Michael Oren’s invitation to our campus. Propagating murder is not a responsible expression of free speech. Oren and his partners should only be granted a speakers platform in the International Criminal Court and should not be honored on our campus.

2. Oren was prevented from speaking over and over again that night. There was no way to know whether there would be further disruptions since the students ignored the numerous pleas and warnings to stop. His right of speech was undeniably curtailed as a result.

More important, as to LeVine’s point that university guidelines about such disturbances aren’t clear, they were made clear during the interruptions to the speech. Both the hosting professor and the Chancellor warned the students to stop. Had they said nothing, LeVine might have an argument, but when warnings are expressed multiple times by officials of the university, the terms of the situation are clarified and publicized. The students were warned there would be academic and possibly police (criminal) sanctions if they continued with the disruptions. This became clear after the first disruption. They chose to proceed with disruptions anyway.

In addition, thanks to the Chemerinsky article, we now know that the UCI administration had gotten wind of the MSU plan and sent them an inquiry and warning about disrupting the event. The MSU denied, through its officials, that it intended any actions, but then the president and vice president of the MSU were among those who disrupted the talk. At the very least, even if one absurdly distances the MSU from the disruptions, the people involved knew the administration did not wish to have disturbances.

3. It doesn’t matter if Oren was the King of the World, the so-called disparity between the students and this individual has nothing to do with disrupting his right to speak or of his audience to hear him, in full, including a question and answer period. If he’s slated for 90 minutes, that’s what should be heard by all.

Second, to claim that these students are not part of a larger campaign is ridiculous. UCI is one of about 200 campuses that have some form of anti-Israel week and it is a well-orchestrated effort. This is not happening in a vacuum.

Third, the disrupting students were mostly from the MSU. While there is no direct information on their website or elsewhere linking them to the Muslim Student Association on other campuses, some sources indicate a connection. The MSA was founded as an outpost of the Muslim Brotherhood decades ago and has been funded with Saudi money in the past. Links and evidence can be found here. Connections to to the Muslim Brotherhood, including some mentioning the MSA at UCI are found in this paper by Steven Emerson’s Investigative Project. At the very least, one has to ask whether the UCI MSU is connected to these organizations (this article from 2008 claims they are under the MSA umbrella) or not before making pronouncements about disparity between the disruptive students and their victim. If they are connected to the MSA, that organization is huge, with hundreds of campuses under its umbrella. Some more information is available here.

4. The good old “Hasbara Handbook” trick. I wish I could find out whether and how that thing was distributed since I keep reading about it from anti-Israel advocates. In any case, whether or not that manual exists or was ever actually put to use by people who advocate for Israel (we need evidence, since all LeVine says is that such a handbook exists but then provides no examples of its use), that has nothing to do with the disruptions to Oren by people who have no connection to the Hasbara handbook, especially since they were made after warnings to the contrary. This was another nice dig at Israel and Jews for Professor LeVine, however.

5. The chilling effect on free speech will not exist at UCI if these students are punished. On the contrary, the university will feel free to bring in serious speakers like Mr. Oren without fear of embarrassment. Audiences will know they can come to UCI to hear serious speakers give lectures without being disturbed. If Prof. LeVine cares so much about chilling free speech at UCI, he might wish to take a look at the second video posted above where the pro-Palestinians on his campus decided to censor any recording of one of their guests, even as he was spewing what can only be described as anti-Semitic venom.

The students could have protested without disrupting Oren’s talk. They could have held signs up in the back of the room. They could have distributed leaflets. They could have chanted outside the auditorium. Etc. None of these would be covered by the UCI administration’s warnings. Dissent and free speech need not mean disruption and interference.

5. Continued: LeVine continues to weaken his argument and his gravity by comparing Israel and Michael Oren to countries that practice “forced female genital mutilation or the execution of homosexuals.” Interestingly, Israel does neither.

However, his point is not about mutilation or murder of homosexuals, that was just another dig at Israel, it is about the unfortunate 19 year old kid who will be afraid to speak his mind. LeVine’s concern is unfounded. That 19 year old kid, or 22 year old president of an on-campus organization, just needs to remember not to disrupt others’ rights to free expression or others’ right to hear speakers. Surely, Professor LeVine recognizes the possibility of dissenting without preventing the speech of others.

6. LeVine concludes by calling the protesting students “marginalized” and excusing their behavior as playing into stereotypes which might be falsely enhancing a desire to punish them. And then he states his belief that they should not be punished in any way since there was no clear university policy and other incidents in the past have not yielded punishments.

Well, of course, the last excuse is the weakest. The past does not indicate that things shouldn’t change, particularly when the behavior is so disturbing. Second, he should really stop using the “stereotypes” excuse since it has absolutely nothing to do with the UCI or UCR students. Nobody serious has said anything about this other than their apologists. Third, they are far from marginalized students. When I looked up their names, they appeared to all intents and purposes to be popular, active students who engaged other students at barbecues and sports teams. Finally, and the reason LeVine’s argument fails, is that these students were warned before the event and during the event. They are adults and they made adult decisions to ignore those warnings. They obviously planned the incident in detail and stuck to the plan even after being asked and warned to stop during the talk.

My prescription for a fair punishment can be found on this post at the end (hint: it does not include expulsion of the students or the painting of swastikas, stars of David or green crescents on UCI’s buildings).

I want to conclude by discussing Professor LeVine’s reprehensible comments regarding Jews. His comment about the Stars of David is nothing less than hateful sloganeering against Jews who had asked that UC Irvine create a less hostile atmosphere on campus during those weeks when the anti-Israel groups bring their hate-fest to campus. The comment about a pound of flesh is no less disgusting and was entirely unnecessary. Also unnecessary was the false comparison of Israel to countries that kill homosexuals or practice forced female mutilation. He should be very pleased that nobody is curtailing his right to free speech, even when it is hideous speech.

In the meantime, a new Facebook group and website called “We Won’t Be Silenced” is demanding that UCI and the UC system take active steps against these students.

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