[UPDATED] Irvine 11 Charged With Misdemeanors, Face Jail, Probation, Community Service if Convicted
UPDATED, FEB. 7, 12:01 P.M.: A Jewish-rights group will hand deliver to the Orange County district attorney's office petitions stating they, too, should be charged with crimes--as they have engaged in the same form of protests as the Irvine 11--as well as a letter signed by rabbis around the country blasting the prosecution of the Muslims.
Meanwhile, Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of UC Irvine's law school and a constitutional-law expert, tells the Weekly he does not believe the Irvine 11 would prevail in a constitutional challenge of the case against them.
Saying he has "looked at the statutes" District Attorney Tony Rackauckas cited as the basis for filing criminal misdemeanor charges against the protesters from UCI and UC Riverside, Chemerinsky writes in an e-mail this morning, "I think that the students are very unlikely to prevail in a constitutional challenge."
He continued: "Their disruptive behavior is not protected by the First Amendment. However, I do not believe that criminal prosecution here is wise or necessary. The university imposed discipline, and that should be deemed sufficient here."
This is coming from a legal expert who immediately chastised the students for disrupting the Feb. 8, 2010, speech on campus by Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States.
The national group Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), which bills itself as "America's largest Jewish grassroots peace group dedicated to reaching a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians based on the principles of equality and international human-rights law," also sent the Weekly a statement this morning saying it "is appalled by the Orange County district attorney's unprecedented decision."
Noting the students were specifically protesting Israel's actions during Operation Cast Lead, a three-week military operation on Gaza that resulted in the deaths of 1,400 Palestinians and eight Israelis, the Oakland-based group says, "Our own members have engaged in similar protests in the past without being charged and stand by it as a form of legitimate expression in an open and democratic society. . . .
"The targeting of a group of Muslim American students, who were already sanctioned and whose organization was already suspended by their university as punishment, is unacceptable and will only strengthen Islamophobia and attempts to stifle political speech in this country," the communique continues.
To further show its displeasure, Estee Roberts, the JVP chapter leader in Los Angeles, and Rachel Roberts, who was part of a group of young Jews who interrupted a speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in November, will go to the district attorney's Santa Ana office Wednesday to hand deliver petitions "that, in just two days, [were] signed by more than 5,000 supporters admitting that they, too, had committed the similar crime of once interrupting a speaker or event to make a political point." Signers call on Rackauckas to also charge them "if interrupting injustice is now considered a crime."
"A team of young Jews from the Jewish Voice for Peace Young Leadership Institute similarly interrupted a speech by Prime Minister Netanyahu at the Jewish Federations General Assembly in November," explains Cecilie Surasky, the JVP's deputy director. "Like the students at Irvine, they were protesting Israeli policies that violate international law, and like the Muslim students, they offered no resistance when being escorted out of the room. The consequences? They received international news coverage and were hailed as heroes by many Jewish editorial writers. In stark contrast, these Muslim students, who heckled the ambassador in a much smaller venue, are being criminally charged and could potentially face prison time. This is shocking."
More about this on the JVP blog.
A statement from the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council follows:
Whoever is able to protest against the transgressions of his own family and does not do so is held responsible and liable for the transgressions of his family. Whoever is able to protest against the transgressions of the people of his community and does not do so is liable for the transgressions of his community. Whoever is able to protest against the transgressions of the entire world and does not do so is liable for the transgressions of the entire world.
- Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 54b
We, the rabbis of Jewish Voice for Peace, stand in solidarity with the Irvine 11's right to engage in civil disobedience, one of America's most sacred democratic principles. We urge the District Attorney's office of Orange County to immediately stop efforts to criminalize the actions of these Muslim students who, in the long-standing tradition of non-violent activism for social justice, protested the speech of the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren.
It is clear that there are double standards for protest in the United States. Last November, the members of Young, Jewish and Proud, the young activist arm of Jewish Voice for Peace, were let go after similarly disrupting a speech by the Israeli Prime Minister in front of a much larger audience in New Orleans. Instead of facing sanctions or criminal charges, their actions were lauded by many writers in Israeli and Jewish papers and news outlets across the world. In stark contrast, 11 Muslim students faced unprecedented sanctions both at the University of California and now from the office of the District Attorney which has empaneled a grand jury.
Apart from being deeply concerned by the actions of the Orange County District Attorney's Office, we want to express our support for the message of those who interrupted Ambassador Oren. We believe that four decades of the Israeli Occupation of Palestine calls us to interrupt business as usual. Students that stood in public and voiced their passionate concern over policies of siege, home demolition, targeted destruction of infrastructure and ongoing dispossession of people from their land had a right to confront Ambassador Oren, and hold him and his government accountable for actions that were deemed as war crimes by the Goldstone Report. We believe we have an obligation, according to the dictates of our tradition, to raise our voices in protest of policies that violate international and humanitarian law, especially when they are carried out in our name.
Rabbi Haim Beliak, Los Angeles, CA
Rabbi Zev-Hayyim Feyer, Pomona, CA
Rabbi Alissa Wise, San Francisco, CA
Rabbi Margaret Holub, Mendocino, CA
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, Stony Point, NY
Rabbi Brant Rosen, Chicago, IL
Rabbi Rebecca T. Alpert, Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi David Mivasair, Vancouver, BC
Rabbi Shai Gluskin, Philadephia, PA
Rabbi Brian Walt, West Tisbury, MA
Rabbi Michael Feinberg, NY, NY
Rabbi Joseph Berman, Jamaica Plain, MA
Rabbi Eyal Levinson, Givataim, Israel
Susie Schwartz, Rabbinical Student, Boston, MA
David Basior, Rabbinical Student, Philadelphia, PA
UPDATE, FEB. 5, 11:52 A.M.: The incoming director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California accuses Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas of taking unprecedented action to silence students from protesting and engaging in controversial speech with his decision to seek criminal charges against the Irvine 11.
Calling the ACLU "deeply troubled" by the filing of misdemeanor charges against the students, Hector Villagra says, "We are unaware of any case where a district attorney pressed criminal charges over this type of nonviolent student protest."
He continues, "The district attorney's action will undoubtedly intimidate students in Orange County and across the state and discourage them from engaging in any controversial speech or protest for fear of criminal charges. The prosecution is unnecessary and unwarranted. University officials have already addressed the issue through the discipline system. Seeking convictions, jail time and criminal records against these students is misguided. The substantial resources required for a prosecution and the grand jury that reportedly convened would be better used to fight crimes that endanger the residents of Orange County."
Villagra's chapter has called on Rackauckas "to dismiss the charges immediately."
The ACLU of Southern California is also battling the DA over his use of gang injunctions. Could an ACLU suit on behalf of the Irvine 11 be in the works? Stay tuned.