The Irvine 11 trial began this week in Southern California (for background, see here, here and here). The Irvine 11, Muslim students from the University of California Irvine and Riverside, face up to two years in prison (according to the Electronic Intifada), for heckling the ambassador from Israel, Michael Oren, when he spoke at UC Irvine last year. Interestingly, both the prosecution and defense are arguing free speech.
The prosecution is arguing that the protestors prevented Oren from exercising his free speech rights, while the defense is arguing that they the defendants were exercising their free speech rights by heckling him. The prosecution says that there were clearly articulated rules for debate delineated before Oren’s speech and that the protestors violated these rules, according to the Daily Pilot. However, heckling, by definition, knows no rules, yet it is still a time-honored and judicially defensible form of free-speech. Furthermore, the defendants, all of whom are Muslim, seemed to be singled out because of their faith, rather than their actions, considering that Israeli and Jewish protestors on campus who had engaged in similar tactics were never charged or prosecuted.
Aside from the fact that it is a horrendous waste of resources to prosecute these students at all simply for heckling someone, let alone threaten them with two years in prison for it, it is highly unlikely they can receive a fair trial in conservative Orange County. Out of a pool of 400 potential jurors, several expressed outright hostility toward Muslims and Arabs. Furthermore, the overwhelming consensus in this country, perpetuated by politicians and the media, is that Israel is completely justified in doing whatever it sees fit to “protect” itself from “terrorism” by Palestinians, despite the fact that the blockade of Gaza is illegal under international law, and the Israeli siege of Gaza resulted in the slaughter of 1,400 Palestinians, most of whom were innocent children, women and men.
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