Full letter available at newuniversity.org.
We represent the Committee for Human Rights and Academic Freedom of the Association of Middle Eastern Women’s Studies, an affiliate of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, and the largest scholarly group of its kind. Most of us are career academics.
We are writing to you with concerns about the civil rights of eight UC Irvine students and three UC Riverside students.
These students were detained, handcuffed, and cited with pending criminal charges due to their brief vocal protests during a speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren on February 8, 2010 at UCI. The students did not attempt to “drown out” the speech of Ambassador Oren as was alleged, and voluntarily exited the auditorium.
They are being threatened over the Internet. We were troubled to learn that the Muslim Student Union at UCI is also being threatened with disciplinary actions and to hear that Assemblyman Chuck Devore and the Zionist Organization of America have called for its exclusion from campus for some time.
Perhaps you are aware that a movement to dispute the actions of the government of Israel and its illegal occupation of Palestinian territory has been taking this particular form of protes at other college campuses and public forums, and is likely to continue. We would like you to admit that powerful academic and community groups and lobbies have prevented speeches, and indeed have protested the presence of any who might speak, as the Israeli Ambassador did, in support of Palestinian rights.
In addition, at previous events at UCI, speakers invited by Muslim students have been drowned out by organized campus protesters who were not cited or threatened for their actions. We therefore wonder if a double standard is being utilized.
These students have broken no law, but have expressed their views, exercising their freedom of speech. It appears that UCI is punishing them (and UCR seeks to punish them) in a disproportionate and public manner because they are Muslim and support Palestinian rights.
Civil protest against governmental policies is a longstanding activity on college campuses.
We hope you do not regret the ending of apartheid and the fostering of civil rights which such protests firmly supported and helped win. We support and defend the rights to free speech by these UCI and UCR students and their intent to protest serious violations of human rights by Mr. Oren’s government.
Dr. Sherifa Zuhur, Chair, Committee for Human Rights and Academic Freedom, Association of Middle East Women’s Studies
Dr. Nadje al-Ali, President, Association of Middle East Women’s Studies (SOAS, University of London)