Muslim student group at UCI to appeal suspension decision

Members called Michael Oren ‘killer’ during February speech on campus.

Michael Oren pose 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Michael Oren pose 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
NEW YORK – A Muslim student group has announced it will appeal a decision by the University of California at Irvine to suspend it after its members called Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren a “killer” during a speech on campus.
The Muslim Student Union (MSU) was suspended for one year and placed on disciplinary probation for an additional year, following a campus judicial review of Oren’s February 8 speech, which spurred chaos and protests.
University spokeswoman Cathy Lawhon said the committee’s decision would be a binding recommendation to the campus’s office of student affairs if the planned appeal by the group did not succeed.
During Oren’s address, MSU members interrupted nearly a dozen times, shouting, “Propagating murder is not an expression of free speech!” and “How many Palestinians did you kill?” Police arrested 11 students in the tumult that ensued.
On Monday, the university released a letter from a student affairs disciplinary committee, saying the group had been found guilty of disorderly conduct, obstructing university activities and other violations of campus policy.
The decision against the student group was praised by the local Jewish federation, which – along with national groups – sought to penalize the MSU and change an anti-Israel culture on campus.
“We commend the university for its judicious decision in support of free speech and civil discourse,” said Shalom Elcott, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Orange County.
“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.”
But Jewish students on campus said they had been the targets of MSU previously. Some in the community have called for a public boycott of UC Irvine.
“While we would have liked for the administration to have come to this conclusion more quickly,” Elcott said, “we are pleased that after due process, the MSU has finally been sanctioned.”
The MSU has publicly denied being anti-Semitic, but last week brought a speaker, Malik Ali, who compared Jews to Nazis.
He also expressed support for Hamas, Hizbullah and Islamic Jihad.
Following the decision, the student group was also required to complete 50 hours of community service. It will not be allowed to hold campus events until 2011.
A lawyer for the students said they had appealed the decision, according to The Orange County Register.
“This is nothing but collective punishment,” said Reem Salahi, the attorney. She said the decision was a recommendation, not a ban. Still, she said, “all Muslim students on campus have been punished for the actions of a few.”
The MSU condemned Oren’s appearance but insisted it had not organized the protests.
The disciplinary committee, however, said a review of online message group conversations and minutes from an MSU meeting revealed that the group had engineered the protests and instructed participants to lie about its involvement.
“Be VERY LOUD, firm and strong... but remain composed and under control. Do not let your emotions get the best of you. Remember that this is a planned/calculated response and not a venting session,” the committee quoted organizers as telling participants in meeting minutes.
The letter, dated May 27, was released following a Freedom of Information Act request by the Jewish Federation of Orange County.
Salahi said the committee had relied on evidence that was “inadequate and problematic,” but declined to outline the group’s challenge in detail. She said the decision, if sustained, would leave Muslim students without an organization representing their interests.
“It really does have very lasting constitutional implications,” she said. “It’s a chilling effect for Muslims on campus and their right to associate.”
AP contributed to this report.