Michael B. Oren
Michael B. OrenFlash 90

Jewish groups are urging the Appellate Division of the California Superior Court in Orange County to uphold the conviction of 10 individuals for repeatedly interrupting Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s speech at the University of California at Irvine.

“The First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech may not be invoked to protect those who intentionally disrupt a lawful meeting,” said Marc D. Stern, General Counsel of the American Jewish Committee (AJC).

The AJC, together with the Jewish Council of Public Affairs and Jewish National Fund filed an amicus brief in State v. Sayeed, in which the ten protestors are seeking to overturn their conviction for violating a California statute banning disruption of public meetings. As a result of the vocally disruptive protestors, Ambassador Oren’s speech on February 8, 2010, was curtailed to 12 minutes, instead of an hour-long appearance.

The brief quotes Justice Stanley Mosk of the California Supreme Court, who stated: “[t]he freedom of everyone to talk at once can destroy the right of anyone effectively to talk at all.” The brief noted that “there is liberty in the marketplace of ideas, but that marketplace cannot thrive in anarchy.”

The brief cites other examples of government regulation of speech to maintain order in the marketplace of ideas, such as regulating access to broadcast frequencies and insisting on parade permits to ensure that different parades do not march at the same time.

These regulations and California’s ban on disruption of public meetings forbid the freedom of speech from being used to “snuff out free speech of others” and serve to prevent a heckler from vetoing speech which she or he finds offensive, Honey Kessler Amado, lead author of the brief, said.

A no disruption rule does not silence protestors, the brief says. For example, “[protestors] could have picketed outside of the University’s auditorium;…attended the speech wearing buttons or T-shirts protesting Israel’s policies; they could have…participated in the question-and-answer period; and they could have organized their own meeting.”

“What they could not do is what they are being punished for—preventing Ambassador Oren from speaking,” said Amado.

The 10 were sentenced to 56 hours of community service, and three years of probation.

Ambassador Oren announced that he will be leaving his post this fall.

“Israel and the United States have always enjoyed a special relationship and, throughout these years of challenge, I was privileged to take part in forging even firmer bonds,” Oren said.