AFI: Show Some Respect

Last Monday, February 8, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, came to UCI to discuss the U.S.–Israel relationship. The event was co-hosted by Anteaters for Israel and a myriad of other campus organizations and departments. More than 600 people came to hear the Ambassador’s speech. However, within moments of beginning, the Ambassador was interrupted by a student who stood up and began shouting hateful remarks at him. Campus police promptly removed the student. Despite Political Science Department Chair Mark Petracca’s warnings of possible suspension and arrest, ten more students rudely disrupted the event. These students and their followers then left the event and proceeded to scream slogans and chants outside in an effort to further prevent the event from continuing. They failed in their effort; the Ambassador was still able to complete his speech and receive a standing ovation.

Ironically, by exercising what they thought to be free speech, these students in fact deliberately prevented Ambassador Oren from exercising his right to free speech. They tried censoring others and violated our American values. And sadly, this was not the first time. It was just another example where members of this same organization have tried to censor opinions.

In 2007, they shouted accusations at politician Daniel Pipes, then in 2008, they tore down posters of the Consul General, and now, the pattern continues with Michael Oren. When will we put an end to this pattern of censorship?

It is very unfortunate that students our age, at our university, are unwilling to participate in constructive dialogue, to be open-minded and most importantly, to show common courtesy. It is also unfortunate that leaders of an organization forcefully imposed a negative reputation upon those within their community. The dissenters not only embarrassed themselves, but also brought shame to the University and those around them.

The students most certainly had the right to protest, but only they had done so in the legal and civil approach. As world-renowned expert on the constitution, Dean of UCI’s Law School, Erwin Chemerinsky, explained, they clearly violated the First Amendment. He then continued to condemn the students for their behavior and attempt to choose for others what they can and cannot listen to.

Proudly, however, members of Anteaters for Israel rose above this and acted responsibly, and the prestigious speaker responded so graciously in the face of such hostility. This distinctly showed strength and ability to overcome challenges.

As individuals who value basic human rights, we must all stand up and come together to ensure the freedom of speech. The world is watching and waiting for us to react to this transgression and prove we are capable of doing the right thing: to protect our basic human rights as citizens of the United States.

It is important to recognize Monday’s incident for what it is: a conscious attempt by one party to silence another from expressing itself. If this is not met with the appropriate response, then it will send a message to the world that at UCI, it is okay to silence people from speaking if one does not agree with them. We must not let this happen. Such censure morally degrades our university, and more importantly, our society as a whole. Today, they censor Israelis; tomorrow who would it be?

Moran Cohen is the President of Anteaters for Israel. She can be reached at cohenm@uci.edu.