College students protest in front of the offices of the Orange County District… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)
Orange County Islamic leaders gathered in Anaheim over the weekend to show support for a group of college students facing criminal charges for interrupting a speech by the Israeli ambassador to the United States.
The so-called Irvine 11, who protested a Feb. 10, 2010, appearance by Ambassador Michael Oren at UC Irvine, are set to be arraigned Friday in Santa Ana on misdemeanor charges that they conspired to disrupt Oren's speech and then did so. Eight of the students attend UCI, and three attend UC Riverside.
The students "are passionate; they are caring and deeply believe in social justice," said Arif Shaikh, who moderated a Saturday night panel at the Islamic Institute of Orange County, where religious leaders and political activists called on Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas to drop the charges.
Prosecutors say they have evidence that the protesters conspired to disrupt Oren's speech and to hide evidence of the planning.
The students in attendance Saturday declined to comment, deferring questions to their attorney. They face up to six months in jail or probation if convicted.
"Protests like this happen all around the country," said Reem Salahi, a Pasadena lawyer representing the 11 men who at the time ranged in age from 19 to 23. "The O.C. district attorney has engaged in a witch hunt … with its highly selective and unwarranted criminal charges."
The students have won support from UCI faculty, free-speech advocates, Muslim leaders and a liberal Jewish group. But other Jewish organizations, including the prominent Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, have denounced the students' actions, saying they infringed on the rights of those who came to hear Oren speak.
Prosecutors filed charges Feb. 4, several days before the statute of limitations expired. An Orange County grand jury investigated the protests into the summer.
Each of the students was disciplined by his respective university; UCI's Muslim Student Union was briefly suspended by the university and is on probation. The dean of UCI's law school, Erwin Chemerinksy, has said he believes the colleges' sanctions were enough.