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Rights group: Prosecute anti-Israel protesters
By JOANNA PARASZCZUK
04/11/2012
Pro-Palestinian, Muslim student groups disrupted a February pro-Israel event at UC Davis.
 
A US civil rights legal group called on Tuesday for pro-Palestinian student protesters who interrupted a pro-Israel event at University of California, Davis last month to be prosecuted.

The Global Frontier Justice Center in Brooklyn, New York, sent a letter to Jeff Reisig, the district attorney for Yolo County, California, asking him to open criminal proceedings against the protesters, whom the rights group says violated California law.

In their letter to Reisig, the GFJC cited Article 403 of the California Penal Code, which prohibits protesters from deliberately disturbing a lawful assembly or meeting.



Two Israelis – an IDF reservist and a Druse woman whose father and brother served in the IDF – were due to speak at the UC Davis event, organized by StandWithUs, Chabad of Davis and the Chai-Life Club.

However, activists from campus-based pro- Palestinian and Islamic groups, including Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the Muslim Student Association became hostile and heckled the speakers, attorney Kenneth Leitner, GFJC’s director said.

One protester interrupted the speakers to ask “how many women have you raped? How many children have you raped?” according to GFJC’s letter.

When the speaker asked that protester if he wanted to talk, he replied that he wanted the Israelis to “shut up and get out,” adding that “you’re going to have to kill me to shut me up [you] rapist, child molester, [and] murderer,” GFJC alleges in its letter to Reisig.

That protester also said he had come to the event to shut it down, because the speakers had “turned Palestine into a land of prostitutes, rapists and child molesters,” the GFJC said.

“It’s not simply offensive to the free speech and association rights of the speakers and their sponsors,” said Leitner. “It’s a crime and it should be prosecuted.”

The GFJC notes that while the protesters themselves also have a constitutional right to free speech, that “does not include a right to prevent others from speaking.”

In its letter to the district attorney, the GFJC referred to a previous case involving students at UC Irvine who disrupted a speech by Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren.

According to the The Los Angeles Times, in February last year, the Orange County district attorney’s office charged 11 of those UC Irvine protesters with conspiring to disrupt a meeting and speech by the Israeli ambassador.

That case also cited Article 403 of the California Penal Code.

“We encourage you to prosecute these protesters just as your colleagues did in Orange County,” the GFJC’s letter adds. “By doing so, you will be working to ensure that speech – even controversial speech – remains possible on college campuses such as UC Davis.”

The GFJC director described the California law against disrupting lawful events as “a good law” that “ensures the freedom of speech and association.”

Leitner added that the request to prosecute the students was made to “protect the marketplace of ideas on college campuses around the country.”

“Pro-Israel groups, just like pro-Palestinian groups and environmental groups and the chess club, need to be able to organize and communicate with their constituents without having to shout over someone whose only objective is to end discussion,” he said.

Rather than try to shut down the pro- Israel event, the protesters could have chosen to hold their own counter-lecture or even to sit-in on the Israeli lectures as a peaceful protest, without interrupting it, Leitner noted.

GFJC attorney Meir Katz added that a similar problem is prevalent on other campuses.

“Similar groups around the country have adopted similar illegal tactics, which makes it important that prosecutors take swift and clear action,” Katz said.

“The First Amendment protects the speech of protesters just like it protects the speech of the speakers and their sponsors,” added Katz. “But freedom of speech doesn’t give you the right to stifle someone else’s speech. Just like you can’t yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater, you can’t yell at all during someone’s speech if the reason you’re doing it is to get that person to stop speaking.”

The GFJC has requested that the district attorney respond to its request by the end of April.
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