It’s a long time coming, the timing is curious, it may be the precursor to appeals, and there could be other challenges. Still, the fact that UC Irvine officials have taken action against the ongoing activities of the Muslim Student Union (MSU) is a significant milestone in drawing the line between free speech and hate speech.
UCI has suspended the MSU for one year, placed it on disciplinary probation for an additional year, and required the MSU to collectively complete 50 hours of community service.
Thus, the organization will not be allowed to conduct organized campus events until at least the fall of 2011. Jewish students and community leaders can breathe a collective sigh of relief – or at least be cautiously optimistic about the future of Jewish-Muslim relations on campus.
The suspension means that the recognition of the MSU organization has been revoked. No current executive officer listed on the UCI Dean of Students registration application form will be allowed to act as an “authorized signer” for any other student organization at the university during the suspension from September 1, 2010, to August 31, 2011.
The fact that the suspension was made public just after graduation ceremonies would seem to indicate that no students will suffer academic sanctions because of their actions and that no graduating seniors will be penalized directly. However, moving forward, the university’s action does acknowledge an ongoing problem and promulgate a solution that appears amenable to Jewish students on campus and their supporters.
According to Shalom Elcott, CEO of Jewish Federation Orange County, “We commend the University for its judicious decision in support of free speech and civil discourse. The University’s disciplinary action regarding the MSU establishes an important and appropriate precedent and sends a powerful message to other universities across the nation.”
Added Jeff Margolis, Co-Chair, Jewish Federation Orange County’s Rose Council, “The UCI administration has taken seriously, the on-campus actions of the MSU and its serial disregard for University policies and civil discourse. UCI is an outstanding academic and research University and the talented Jewish students on campus benefit most when members of the broader Jewish community support enhanced educational, leadership, and social programming.”
“UCI’s administration has done the right thing and is to be commended,” said Dr. James Weiss, Co-Chair, Jewish Federation Orange County’s Rose Council. “We can all have faith in the American system because the results show how well it works. The Orange County Jewish Community will continue to bring positive education, programming and discussion to the UCI campus.”
Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s visit to UCI on February was the catalyst for the disciplinary action. During the 90-minute event, the ambassador was repeatedly and rudely interrupted by members of the MSU, 11 of whom were arrested. While the investigation into this incident revealed the MSU’s well-documented and premeditated plan to prevent Oren from delivering his presentation, it was part of an ongoing pattern of events that have taken place at UCI over a period of several years during which time Jewish students at UCI have been the target of the Muslim Student Union’s anti-Israeli campaigns and anti-Semitic slurs. Although it has publicly denied that its student programming is anti-Semitic, the MSU brought fringe speakers to the campus in May. One speaker, Malik Ali, said during a campus speech just steps from the UC Irvine administration building, “Ya’ll (Jews) are the new Nazi’s.” Ali also confirmed his public support for terrorist organizations Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad.
Jewish Federation Orange County, along with the Anti Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, and Hillel, has engaged in ongoing meetings with campus faculty and staff, UC Regents, University of California President Mark G. Yudof, and members of Congress, as well as students and key community leaders, to resolve the issue. While some people in the community called for a boycott of UCI, Federation leaders have hoped that UCI would be part of the solution.
Jewish Federation Orange County will continue working closely with university leadership to encourage bridge-building programs between Muslim and Jewish students and students of other faiths. Toward this objective, Jewish Federation established the Rose Project in 2008 to provide funding for positive Jewish programming and support to the Jewish students of Orange County college campuses.
Local organizations and congregations also praised the university’s actions. “I hope other campuses that face similar problems will follow UCI’s lead,” said Roz Rothstein, CEO of StandWithUs (SWU). “Hopefully, UCI’s action will help restore civil, responsible debate and free speech on the divisive Arab-Israel issue. Pro-Israel students should now feel safer, and know that their voices can be heard freely on campus.” The Orange County Independent Task Force on anti-Semitism said, “It appears that university officials have finally said ‘enough.’”
ADL’s Board Chair, Marc Schneider, and Regional Director, Dr. Kevin O’Grady, issued the following statement: “We applaud the university’s decision to take action against the MSU for violating Ambassador Oren’s free speech rights and for being dishonest about its role in planning the disruption. In ruling for these sanctions against the MSU, the University of California, Irvine acted with care and integrity.”
Rabbi Yisroel Ciner of Beth Jacob Congregation of Irvine, said that he was “happy and relieved to hear of the strong and just action taken by the UCI Administration. Using the banner of free speech to browbeat and delegitimize those who feel differently is a perversion of that noble concept and should certainly not be tolerated at our academies of higher learning.”
Rabbi Heidi Cohen of Temple Beth Sholom in Santa Ana said that she was “proud that rather than attempting to bully and act out of haste toward UCI and others involved, the Federation in concert with so many in the Jewish community worked patiently to seek a respectful and just response regarding the behavior of the MSU.”
“These results serve as a reminder that the 1st Amendment is a non-negotiable American value,” said Isaac Yerushalmi, UC Irvine Alumnus, Class of 2010. “I hope this landmark decision will lead to a new beginning between moderate Jewish and Muslim students — one of mutual respect, cooperation, and appreciation for one another.”