When I stood up with four other young, proud Jews and interrupted Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech before the Jewish Federation’s General Assembly in November, we knew it would upset and infuriate people–especially in my home community of New Orleans where the event took place.
But we did it anyway, inspired by the brave example of many people who took similar actions in the past, often at much greater risk. Some of the people who inspired us were 11 Muslim students at University of California-Irvine who earlier last year disrupted the talk of Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., as he defended his government’s violations of human rights and war crimes in Gaza.
I can’t help but notice the difference between how these Muslim students are being treated, and how we young Jews were treated. And perhaps, if you once took a stand like them, how you were treated.
We challenged the same government, and spoke for the same values of human rights and equality. We both interrupted speakers representing a foreign government.
But while my fellow Jewish protesters and I were removed from the hall and faced no punishment beyond some bruises from the attacks of audience members, these students saw their group suspended by the University, an unheard of step in a case that did not involve hazing or alcohol abuse. And more shocking, they may face criminal charges that would remain on their records forever.
What will happen to the Irvine 11, and to freedom of speech for all of us?
As the Los Angeles Times editorial board asked yesterday in Free the Irvine 11, “Is it really necessary to threaten the futures of students who engaged in a nonviolent protest that didn’t, ultimately, stop Oren from delivering his remarks?”