USACBI condemns anti-Palestinian criminalization of political expression

(USA, 10/3/11) The US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) today joins a growing coalition of civil rights and advocacy organizations around the globe in condemning the shocking verdict in the Irvine 11 trial. On September 23, 2011, ten students were found guilty for exercising their first amendment rights and for participating in peaceful protest at a speech by the Israeli Ambassador, Michael Oren, at UC Irvine.

In an unprecedented lawsuit brought forth by the Orange County District Attorney, 10 undergraduate students from UC Irvine and UC Riverside were convicted of two criminal misdemeanor acts, simply for interrupting the speech of a foreign official and for an act of civil disobedience protesting the policies of the Israeli government. The anti-Palestinian bias in this case is clear as similar acts of heckling or interrupting the speeches of President Barack Obama or former President George W. Bush did not lead to charges, or even arrests of protesters. Instead, these other protests have been celebrated as testaments to US democracy. Why do the same democratic, civil rights not apply to students trying to raise awareness about the illegal occupation of Palestine? The anti-Palestinian bias and the hypocrisy of the prosecution is underscored by testimony during the trial that pro-Zionist students at UC Irvine who heckled and disrupted a speaker invited by the Muslin Student Union in 2001 faced no charges or sanctions.

It is appalling that these Arab and Muslim American students are being criminalized for protesting the human rights violations in the Israeli war on Gaza in 2008-09 that left at least 400 children dead and destroyed numerous educational institutions. We call for a reversal of this outrageous verdict that makes a mockery of freedom of political expression and that has already had a chilling effect on campus activism. Many Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim American students today are too afraid to openly express their political views on Palestine and to engage in public politics due to the Irvine 11 case. Was this the intended effect of the case? If so, we should all be found “guilty” of exercising our democratic rights and engaging in conscientious objection to the violation of human rights in regions where the US government is unfortunately on the wrong side of justice and self-determination.

USACBI is incredibly alarmed by this verdict because it serves to legally blur the line between criminal acts and student acts of political dissidence thereby bringing into fruition the systematic repression of Pro-Palestinian student activism as well as the intimidation of Palestine solidarity groups within the UC system.

USACBI is appalled by this model of punishment and is concerned about the future of free speech within the UC system. We urge other scholars and academic institutions to aid in the preservation of civil liberties by condemning the Orange County District Attorney for bringing this case against the students. Finally USACBI stands in solidarity with the Irvine 11.

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