(JTA) — Dozens of faculty members at the University of California, Irvine, have asked that criminal charges be dropped against 11 Muslim students who disrupted a speech by Israel’s U.S. ambassador.
Five deans are among the 100 faculty members who signed a letter asking the Orange County District Attorney’s Office to drop the charges filed last week against the nine Irvine students and two students from the University of California, Riverside. Arraignment is set for March 11 in Santa Ana, Calif.
The letter points out that while the students led by the Muslim Student Union were wrong to disrupt the speech, they already were disciplined by the university.
"There is no need for criminal prosecution and criminal sanctions," the letter says. "The use of the criminal justice system will be detrimental to our campus, as it inherently will be divisive and risk undoing the healing process which has occurred over the last year. It also sets a dangerous precedent for the use of the criminal law against non-violent protests on campus."
During the Feb. 8, 2010 speech by Michael Oren, the 11 defendants stood one by one and shouted at the ambassador, calling him a “mass murderer” and a “war criminal,” among other insults. The disruptions, organized to protest Israeli actions in Gaza, prompted Oren to walk off the stage twice.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center on Tuesday commended the district attorney for charging the students.
“This is a victory against the haters who seek to stifle those who wish to voice their views and who aim to create an open dialogue to solve the ongoing Mideast crisis,” said Rabbi Aron Hier, the center’s director of campus outreach. “We hope that this action will begin to redress a climate of intimidation against Jewish students at UCI.”
The center joins the Zionist Organization of America, which opposes unilateral Israeli concessions to the Palestinians and has complained about harassment of pro-Israel groups in the United States, in praising the district attorney’s decision to bring the charges.
On Wednesday, Jewish Voice for Peace, a Berkeley-based national organization that describes itself as a pro-peace group but which critics say works to undermine the State of Israel, hand-delivered to the district attorney a 5,000-signature petition against the charges.