Home October 2011 The Trial

The Trial

Around the Santa Ana courtroom two dozen women with head coverings sat silently.  On trial were the so called Irvine 11, students who had attempted to stop the Israeli ambassador from speaking at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) on February 8 of last year.  In the front, the defendants stood every time the jury entered, attempting to show respect for American values.  The defense attorney in her opening arguments used images of Martin Luther King to invoke a comparison with the non-violent civil rights leader.  Nothing could be further from the truth.
Few of us could forget the bold move by the Muslim Student Union at UCI to deny freedom of speech to Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren.  In a planned attack student after student interrupted the ambassador, making it impossible for him to speak.  The local MSU is linked to others around the country, attempting to achieve in the US what they have succeeded to a degree in Europe, make it impossible for Israeli speakers and Jewish leaders to stand up for Israel.  At the event Ambassador Oren told Dr. Michael Drake, chancellor of UCI, “What is at stake here is freedom of speech.”
This is why this trial is so crucial.  It’s not just UCI, but campuses nationwide.  The strategy of radical Muslim students using intimidation and threats is part of a broader conspiracy to inhibit Jews from standing up for Israel.  It’s working: during the recent conflict in Gaza.  I suggested to community leaders that Jewish centers and synagogues put signs out in front saying, “We support Israel.”  None did except at our center in Yorba Linda.  Most were worried about attacks from radical Muslims.  One leader asked me, “What about the safety of congregants?”
It took the DA, Tony Rackauckas, a non-Jew, to realize the scope of this danger.  He brought the MSU students to trial.  Sadly, some Jewish community groups have been silent. The ADL, never shy about running to the media, has been silent.  Its director told me “in our view the suspension was enough,” referring to the short-lived suspension of the MSU from campus activities at UCI.  Instead of lauding the DA for his courage, the organization said nothing.  In my mind it’s clear the ADL has failed in this case.
This trial is critical for Jews in the US.  If the DA succeeds and the jury finds the students guilty, then a clear message will be sent.  Intimidation and threats will not be tolerated in the US.  Even if the verdict is “not guilty,” it will send a chill to radical Muslims about the level of protest considered acceptable in the US.  The verdict will imbue the Jewish community with confidence in speaking out about Israel, that no one has the right to stifle your voice.
That right to free expression and peaceful protest is essential in a democracy.  UCI was a test case for the whole country.  Hopefully, because of the courage of the DA, the radical Muslims will learn a lesson that about what democracy is really about.  A

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