Freedom of speech is recognized as a human right under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United States Constitution. UC Irvine also recognizes that students have the right to express themselves and their opinions. Section 30.10 of the Administrative Policies of UCI states: “The University is committed to assuring that all persons may exercise the constitutionally protected rights of free expression, speech, assembly and worship.” So why do the UCI administration and Anteaters for Israel (AFI) constantly try to prevent the Muslim Student Union (MSU) from expressing their political beliefs?
All clubs on campus are supposed to be treated equally and all rules are supposed to be applied and enforced the same way for everyone. However, MSU did not experience equal treatment from the administration while planning their annual Palestine Awareness Week. Although MSU submitted their events to Anteater Weekly — an e-mail sent to all students on campus informing them of the events taking place on campus that week — their events did not appear in the e-mail. MSU also submitted a list of their events to appear on the marquees around campus. The events appeared for four days until the administration, under Zionist pressure, removed the title of the week without any warning to MSU. But the unfair treatment did not end there. Administration allowed AFI to put their table on ring road in a space that MSU had booked a year in advance. And when MSU put up a flag display in the Free Speech Zone, an area it had also booked, administration asked them to take it down though it did not violate any UCI rules. When MSU asked for a letter explaining why the flag needed to be removed, administration refused to provide them with one.
AFI claims that MSU’s events and speakers are anti-Semitic and spew hate speech even though MSU clearly distinguishes between the religion of Judaism and the political ideology of Zionism. The speakers never criticize the Jewish religion or Jewish people, only Zionism and Zionists. So how did criticism of any country’s political system or ideology become hate speech? Since when did speaking out about injustice, oppression and the suffering of others become hate speech? Doesn’t having the right to freedom of speech mean the right to express your opinions about the political system of any country, the decisions made by political leaders, and even the political leaders themselves?
The purpose of Palestine Awareness Week is to exercise our right to freedom of speech and educate the campus about the oppression going on in Palestine at the hands of the state of Israel. All of the clubs who agreed to co-sponsor Palestine Awareness Week received an e-mail from various students on campus asking them to rescind their co-sponsorships.
The e-mail included the following: “We kindly ask you to reconsider this decision, in part because your affiliation with such an event will mire [you] into a highly controversial political situation and may very well harm your organization’s image, reputation, and credibility on campus and beyond.”
Why would a group of people who believes that the truth is on their side resort to intimidation tactics? Despite the intimidation, 10 clubs continued to support MSU’s efforts in speaking out against oppression. Ten clubs decided to stand against injustice, providing more campus support for Palestine Awareness Week than ever before.
Rather than try to prevent students from sharing their opinions with others on campus and labeling events and speakers as anti-Semitic, those who disagree should let people come out and decide for themselves. Freedom of speech is a human right, and our right as students of UCI. We can‘t let anybody take that right away from us. We are the generation capable of change in this world, and as the old cliché goes, the future is in our hands.
Personally, I believe that UCI students are intelligent enough to do their own research and make their own decisions. And I strongly encourage you to do your own research; you do not have to take anyone else’s word for it. The facts are out there and if you don’t know where to start, check out what the Human Rights Watch has to say about the Palestine-Israel conflict at http://www.hrw.org/en/middle-eastn-africa/israel-and-occupied-territories.
Alaa Alomar is a fourth-year psychology major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.