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Jewish group says its members should face criminal charges for protests

Last week 11 members of a Muslim student group were charged with conspiracy for interrupting a speech by the Israeli ambassador at UC Irvine. The Jewish Voice for Peace says its members too have interrupted a speaker or event.

February 08, 2011|By Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times
  • UC Irvine student Ridwan Yusuf wears tape over his mouth during a protest on Feb. 1, 2011 in front of the offices of the Orange County district attorney in Santa Ana relating to possible charges being brought against the 11 students who interrupted a speech by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren at UC Irvine last year.
UC Irvine student Ridwan Yusuf wears tape over his mouth during a protest… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

A Jewish advocacy group says its members should also face criminal charges in light of Orange County prosecutors' decision last week to charge 11 Muslim student protesters with conspiracy to disrupt the Israeli ambassador to the United States' speech at UC Irvine last year.

Organizers for Jewish Voice for Peace said they plan to hand-deliver petitions Wednesday to the Orange County district attorney's office containing the signatures of 5,000 supporters admitting that they too had committed the crime of interrupting a speaker or event to make a political point. They also will deliver a letter from more than a dozen rabbis from across the country condemning the prosecution of the Muslim students.

"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 Oakland-based group said Monday in a news release. "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."

Prosecutors on Friday charged 11 members of the Muslim Student Union — eight students from UC Irvine and three from UC Riverside — with conspiring to disrupt the Feb. 8, 2010, speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren in what Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas called an "organized attempt to squelch the speaker."

The protesters repeatedly shouted down Oren before being escorted away by police. They have denied planning the disruptions and intend to plead not guilty.

Jewish Voice for Peace, a liberal group that advocates for peace between Israelis and Palestinians and against Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, said the student protesters at UC Irvine were targeted because they are Muslim. Jewish groups that have interrupted speakers in the past — including a speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last year in New Orleans — have not faced criminal charges, they noted.

"I certainly have asked questions the speakers have considered disruptive to their narrative," said Estee Chandler, organizer of the group's Los Angeles Chapter. "The same type of protests these students did happen all over the country."

tony.barboza@latimes.com

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