Statement by the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism)
Standing up for justice is not a crime. But in the U.S. criminal “justice” system, it certainly is, especially when you stand up for the Palestinian people.
The trial of the Irvine 11 ended today, and a supreme injustice was done. An Orange County jury found 10 of the 11 University of California, Irvine students guilty of two misdemeanors each: conspiring to disrupt a meeting and disruption of a meeting. Charges against the eleventh student were dismissed before trial.
The convicted Arab and Muslim students now face up to six months in jail for their heroic and militant stance against Israeli ambassador Michael Oren, the public defender of Israeli war crimes.
The incident happened in February 2010 on the UCI campus, when 11 university students spoke out to condemn the Israeli government's representative for his country's inexcusable violence, occupation, war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Palestinian people. After the protest, one-third of the room walked out in opposition to Oren.
The Irvine 11 were escorted out of the speech by police and summarily arrested, simply for exercising their right to denounce Israel's crimes.
After being punished by UCI authorities, the Eleven faced criminal charges in Orange County, the nation’s hotbed of immigrant bashing and Islamophobia. It was the unjust punishment pursued by UCI that set the stage for a criminal prosecution.
By aggressively prosecuting the Irvine 11, the O.C. District Attorney and political establishment sent the message that Muslim students can be convicted for peacefully protesting against the representative of a criminal state, but it is fine for elected officials in Orange County, like Villa Park City Councilwoman Deborah Pauly, to openly call for the death of all Muslims with impunity. At a racist rally outside a Muslim charity fundraiser, Pauly told the crowd: ““What’s going on [in the fundraiser] is pure, unadulterated evil. … I know a lot of Marines who will be very happy to help those terrorists to an early meeting in paradise.” There was no investigation into Pauly’s threats.
It is safe to say that the Irvine 11 did not have the chance to receive a fair trial in such a backward, racist environment.
Convicted for supporting Palestine
No matter what the authorities say, the Irvine 11 were prosecuted and convicted for the content of their speech, not the mere act of disruption. The issue was framed as one of simple “free speech,” with the prosecution saying that the Irvine 11 curtailed Oren’s constitutional rights. But it was much more than that—the case was entirely political.
The Eleven were prosecuted and convicted because they are Muslim, because they spoke out against injustice and because they took the side of the Palestinian people. They stood firmly against a war criminal that was on a public relations tour defending the mass murder of over 1,400 Palestinian civilians in Gaza. The Irvine 11 were expressing their views. They did not “shut down” Oren’s presentation as the prosecution claimed.
It should have been Oren and the Israeli government he represents on trial, not the Irvine 11. Israel is guilty of crimes against millions of Palestinians, whose homes have been destroyed, whose land has been confiscated, whose villages have been bombed and demolished, and whose families have been displaced, imprisoned without trial, tortured and killed.
The authorities in Orange County—and those like them at all levels of government—want the Irvine 11 case to set a precedent. They want political protesters to be silent and meek in the face of injustice.
The outcome of the Irvine 11 trial is an outrage. Anyone who truly cares about justice should denounce it as such. But it is also a call to action: to fight for the right of free speech, to stand up against institutional racism and to demand louder than ever self-determination for the Palestinian people.
The ANSWER Coalition has been involved in the Irvine 11 case from the beginning. Our members have spoken about it to thousands at mass anti-war rallies, mobilized for community protests and built for meetings to support the Eleven. ANSWER members also attended the trial each day.
Tamara Khoury, an ANSWER Coalition organizer who attended the trial and closing arguments, summed up the case: “The guilty verdict has done nothing but make the Palestinian voice more determined to be heard. This won’t stop anyone from repeating the Irvine 11’s actions. The injustice these men are facing further exemplifies the U.S. policy toward Israel and the attempted suppression of Palestinian self-determination, but we will stop at nothing.”