Ten out of eleven pro-Palestinian protesters arrested for disrupting a speech by Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren were tried and convicted Friday on charges of heckling, more than a year after they managed to successfully stop him from delivering his message at the University of California Irvine campus. The verdict came after two and a half days of deliberations by a jury. They could face up to six months in jail.
"The conviction means that anti-Israel activists will think twice before trying to take over and disrupt Jewish events," commented Rabbi David Eliezrie, president of the Rabbinic Council of Orange County, who was present in the hall on the night of Oren's speech. "Free speech means respecting all opinions. The recognition of the rights of the ambassador is a victory not just for pro-Israel voices on campus but also for all Americans. Rowdy hooligans can't push around people acting according to the law."
The misdemeanor charges of conspiracy and disrupting a public meeting were based on a series of emails between the students that showed they had weighed several options to determine how best to destroy the evening, according to IPT News. One of the methods rejected was a silent protest.
The Muslim Student Union (MSU), a chapter of the national Muslim Students Association, used the so-called “Chicago-style” protest method to disrupt the ambassador's speech.
More than half an hour into the program, Oren had only managed to speak a total of 2 minutes and 21 seconds, noted Orange County Deputy District Attorney Dan Wagner, who argued there is no right for a “heckler's veto.”
Oren was prevented from carrying out a question and answer session as well.
The students met three criteria for conviction, said Wagner: they willfully violated explicit rules and customs of the speech; they knew, or should have known, that their actions were criminal, and that their protest was a substantial interruption. They ignored seven warnings from administrators and rejected opportunities for dialogue as well.
Defense attorneys claimed the students had a right to protest, and that the university administration, and police, did not have the authority to block that right.