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Defense rests in Irvine 11 trial

The university students are accused of illegally disrupting a speech by Israel's ambassador at UC Irvine last year.

September 16, 2011|By Mona Shadia, Los Angeles Times
  • Mohamed Abdelgany, left, Khalid Akari, Shaheen Nassar and Hakim Kebir, four of 11 students in the case, are flanked by their attorneys at the April arraignment
Mohamed Abdelgany, left, Khalid Akari, Shaheen Nassar and Hakim Kebir,… (Irfan Khan, Los Angeles…)

The defense rested Thursday in the case against 10 university students accused of illegally disrupting a speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren at UC Irvine last year.

Among the final witnesses was Kareem Elsayed, a UC Irvine graduate who recalled the first political speech he attended — a 2001 event that featured Islamic activist Amir Abdel Malik Ali.

Elsayed, a freshman at the time, told the jury that the Muslim Student Union had invited Malik Ali, accused by many Jewish groups of being anti-Semitic, to the campus.

According to Elsayed, about 15 to 20 student protesters kept Malik Ali from delivering his speech through a series of interruptions that lasted for about 15 minutes.

That, however, is what led Elsayed to get excited about political activism on a university campus.

Orange County Assistant Dist. Atty. Dan Wagner, on cross-examination, asked him whether he believed that those students who interrupted Malik Ali should have been reprimanded.

"I obviously didn't like that they interrupted the speaker," Elsayed said, "but, yeah, it's acceptable."

Also taking the stand was UCLA sociology professor Steven Clayman, an expert on audience behavior during public speeches. He testified that in the Oren case the disruptions did not exceed the norm because the ambassador, though delayed in giving his speech, was able to finish it.

In fact, Clayman said, the response by UC Irvine administrators contributed to the delay.

"You could see a difference when administrators stopped participating and stopped responding to protesters," he said, adding that Oren "was moving faster."

Wagner, however, objected to the response and the judge agreed to strike part of it from the record.

None of the defendants in the so-called Irvine 11 trial took the stand. Seven UC Irvine and three UC Riverside students face misdemeanor charges of conspiring to disrupt a public speech and disrupting it. Charges against an 11th defendant were tentatively dropped pending his completion of community service.

The prosecution, as part of Thursday's rebuttal, showed the jury a video the defendants allegedly watched ahead of Oren's speech that involved a protest at the University of Chicago in 2009 when former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visited the school. Twenty-five students were escorted from the auditorium, and Olmert finished his speech.

The jury also was read emails in which the students discussed how to protest Oren's visit. "We are the voices of the Palestinian people," read part of one of the emails.

Closing arguments are scheduled Monday. If convicted, the students could get up to six months in jail.

mona.shadia@latimes.com

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