Suspension Shocks MSU

NATASHA AFTANDILIANS | Staff Photographer<br> MSU members were arrested after interrupting a lecture by Ambassador Michael Oren in February.

NATASHA AFTANDILIANS | Staff Photographer; MSU members were arrested after interrupting a lecture by Ambassador Michael Oren in February.

Nearly four months after the interruption of Ambassador Michael Oren’s talk concerning U.S.-Israeli relations, UC Irvine officials have finally spoken up with a decision that is receiving both praise and condemnation.

On June 14, the Jewish Federation of Orange County announced on their blog that they received notification from UCI administrators that the Muslim Student Union has been suspended for the 2010-2011 academic year.

In a letter sent to MSU on May 27, Lisa Cornish, Senior Executive Direct of Student Housing, listed several charges against the group, including “disruption of teaching, research, administration, disciplinary procedures or other University activities.” The 14-page letter was sent to the OC Register by the Jewish Federation and went on in detail  concerning Cornish’s interactions with the group, as well as evidence that showed their direct involvement with the disruption of Oren’s Feb. 8 lecture at UCI.

The lecture was attended by roughly 500 people and led to the arrest of 11 students (known as the “Irvine 11”) and made national headlines and revisited accusations against UCI for being a hotbed of anti-Semitism and hate.

In October 2004, the Department of Education launched an investigation after several complaints filed by the Zionist Organization of America. Prior to the investigation, tensions on campus had been rising due to the destruction of a Holocaust memorial in the spring of 2003. The following year, a display depicting the Palestine Wall was set on fire and destroyed.

Although UCI was eventually cleared of any anti-Semitism charges, the open hostility between some Muslim and Jewish students has not simmered. This past May’s annual “Israel Apartheid Week,” organized by MSU, culminated with a speech by Amir Abdel Malik Ali, leader of the Oakland branch of the As-Sabiqun group, an American Muslim organization that has often been described as being anti-Semitic. During Ali’s talk at the flagpoles, he asserted his support for terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah.

Two days later in an e-mail sent to students, Chancellor Michael Drake condemned Ali’s “endorsement of terrorism,” demonstrating a proactive response – something that Drake and UCI officials have been criticized for not doing in the past, though are not being praised for.

“The university’s disciplinary action on the MSU establishes an important and appropriate precedent,” Jewish Federation President and CEO Shalom Elcott said in a video posted to the Jewish Federation’s blog in June.

The blog entry also noted that the suspension of MSU has been a long-awaited punishment by many members of the Jewish community.

“I believe that our university showed that it supports its policies and the free speech of all individuals and thus when actions are taken against these utmost important and fundamental values, there are consequences,” Moran Cohen, former president of Anteaters for Israel, said.

Response all-around has not been generally positive though. M.E.Ch.A. de UCI, a Chicano organization on campus, has called the administration’s decision to suspend MSU “a racist proposal that will be detrimental not only to the Muslim community but to the campus community as a whole.” M.E.Ch.A., along with several on-campus groups and other UC student governments also supported the Irvine 11’s right to free speech following the Oren lecture.

In a recent press release posted on MSU’s website, the group announced their action to appeal the university’s recommendation, adding that the suspension “came as a shock,” especially after the group had just received the Social Justice Award from UCI’s Cross Cultural Center.

“This unprecedented measure singles out hundreds of Muslims and collectively punishes an entire organization and religious body for the actions of a few of its members,” an e-mail on behalf of MSU stated.

The university, however, is confident in the results of their investigation. “The decision was made based on evidence that MSU members planned and orchestrated the disruption of Michael Oren’s speech on campus and then materially misrepresented their involvement both before and after the event,” Cathy Lawhon, director of UCI Communications, said in an e-mail statement.

Based on the university’s recommendation if the decision were to be finalized, MSU’s suspension is to last from Sept. 1 to Aug. 31, 2011. The group would be allowed to re-register as a campus organization in the fall of 2011, but would be placed on an additional year of probation.