FREE SPEECH -- The Muslim Student Union at UC Irvine is to have its official recognition suspended for a year for masterminding the orchestrated disruption of a speech by the Israeli ambassador earlier this year, report Deepa Bharath and Ellyn Pak for the Orange County Register.

UC Irvine's Union members say a
year-long suspension came as a shock and that the university's action
would deny Muslim students a sense of community, according to a
statement released Monday afternoon.

“Suspending
the MSU would undoubtedly create a chilling effect and deprive Muslim students
-- both current and incoming -- of a place where they can develop a sense of
community with one another and with the broader UCI campus community,” said
incoming MSU President Asaad Traina. “Depriving Muslim students a venue to
associate jeopardizes their rights under the First Amendment and is an act of
marginalization at a time when Muslim students and Muslim youth already feel
besieged."

 

The
suspension is the result of a months-long internal review by the university
following the arrest of 11 union students during Israeli Ambassador Michael
Oren's speech on campus. Oren was repeatedly interrupted by the union members.

 

Click here
to see a raw video of the incident.

 

The group
has appealed the decision, according to Husam Ayloush, executive director of
the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Members also denies that the Oren
disruptions were an officially sanctioned MSU activity and that the students
acted on their own.

 

Their
attorney, Reem Salahi, said based on her understanding of the university's
policies and procedures, what has been issued is not a "ban," but
only a recommendation. The student group is waiting to meet with university
officials.

 

"That
said, I don't agree with their actions at all," she said. "This is
nothing but collective punishment. All Muslim students on campus have been
punished for the actions of a few."

 

So far, UCI
has not released any information about this ban and does not plan on doing so,
said Cathy Lawhon, director of media relations.

 

"I do
not have personal knowledge of this, as the process and the actions against the
students and the group were privileged," she said. "We value the
privacy of our students and the process. This is a private and privileged
process, and we will honor that process."

 

Although
other individuals and groups might discuss this issue, the university will not,
Lawhon said.

 

A May 27
letter sent to the Muslim Student Union by Lisa Cornish, senior executive director
of Student Housing, which was also copied to Dean of Students Rameen Talesh,
details the violations that were believed to have been committed by the union
and the disciplinary action taken against them. This document was obtained and
provided to The Orange County Register by the Jewish Federation.

 

Cornish's
letter says the university's decision to suspend the union was based on Google
Group e-mails, personal observations by university officials including the
police chief, observations by other students and "the fact that all of the
disruptors retained the same attorney to represent them in the student conduct
process."

 

Cornish's
letter talks about how the Muslim Student Union held a meeting Feb. 3 prior to
the ambassador's visit and methodically discussed how to disrupt the event. The
students talked about sending "the speaker a message – our goal should be
that he knows that he can't just go to a campus and say whatever he wants"
and "pushing the envelope."

 

They even
voted on one method of action and said, "We all go through with this
together insha Allah ta'ala, together as one MSU."

 

Cornish's
letter states that the students planned every detail of the disruption
including scripting statements.

 

The letter
also goes into detail about what each one of the disruptors yelled out during
Oren's speech.

 

Cornish
says in the letter that she has concluded based on her review that the Muslim
Student Union and each of its authorized signers violated several university
policies including "disorderly and lewd conduct, participation in a
disturbance of peace or unlawful assembly, obstruction or disruption of
teaching, research, administration, disciplinary procedures or other University
activities and other forms of dishonesty including ... fabricating information,
furnishing false information, or reporting a false emergency to the
University."

 

The letter
orders the Muslim student union to cease operations from Sept. 1, a suspension
that will be active until Aug. 31, 2011. After that date, the group will be
placed on "disciplinary probation" for one more year. Any misconduct
during that period could result in further action against the group or its
members, Cornish's letter states. Also, group members must collectively
complete 50 hours of community service, which also needs to be approved by the
university.

 

Ayloush
said he is disappointed by The Jewish Federation's decision to release
information that was meant to be confidential.

 

"I'm
puzzled at their attempt to score political points at the expense of the privacy
of the students and the process that is internal to UCI," he said.

 

To watch a
YouTube video featuring a statement by Jewish Federation President and CEO
Shalom Elcott, click here.

 

Ayloush
called the university's actions "unprecedented, heavy-handed and
draconian."

 

"It
appears to be politically motivated to silence any future peaceful and
legitimate criticism of Israel's brutal practices," he said. "This
was nothing but a peaceful and symbolic protest of the Israeli Ambassador at
UCI. It was a reflection of a growing worldwide campaign by human rights
activists to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine and their racism toward
the Palestinian people."

 

The Muslim
students did not engage in fraudulent, immoral or criminal behavior, Ayloush
said.

 

Shalom
Elcott, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation Orange County, said he
commends the university's decision to follow through on this issue.

 

"The
university's disciplinary action regarding the MSU establishes an important and
appropriate precedent and sends a powerful message to other universities across
the nation."

 

Elcott said
the federation along with other campus and local Jewish organizations have
worked with the university to resolve this issue.

Jeff
Margolis, co-chairman of the federation's Rose Council, said the university's
actions show that it has "taken seriously the on-campus actions of the
Muslim Student Union and its serial disregard for university policies and civil
discourse."