The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) filed a joint Amicus brief in support of the appeal to overturn the convictions of the “Irvine 11” – ten students who were criminally prosecuted for peacefully protesting a speech by Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren in 2010. Each of the students stood up at different points during the speech, made a short statement condemning Israel’s human rights violations, and walked out, occupying no more than five minutes of the one hour event. They were arrested, and then prosecuted after a year-long investigation.
These students, like university students across the country, have regularly and vigorously protested speakers and public officials without consequence, much less arrest. CCR and JVP asked the court: why was this case worthy of criminal prosecution while similar protests, both before and after, were not?
The brief underscores the likelihood that the protest was punished not because it “substantially impaired” the meeting, as required by the California law under which they were charged, but because the message of the protesters "substantially offended the sensibilities of the [event] organizers and the state." California law and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibit precisely this type of political prosecution.
Said Dima Khalidi, Cooperating Counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights and Director of Palestine Solidarity Legal Support: "This prosecution did not happen in a vacuum. There has been widespread repression of speech advocating for Palestinian rights across the country - by government agencies, universities and organizations that promote Israeli policies against Palestinians. It must therefore be viewed as part and parcel of efforts to intimidate and silence a viewpoint that is consistently drowned out by mainstream orthodox positions in the U.S. that are unconditionally supportive of Israel, whatever its human rights record.”
The Brief also puts this case in a historical context, showing how discriminatory enforcement of vague laws has been used to suppress other movements for social change, including the Civil Rights and anti-war movements. The California appellate court has a duty, as the U.S. Supreme Court has dictated in response to past repression of critical movements, to ensure that these students’ First Amendment rights are protected against the whims of local law enforcement, prosecutors and courts who have the power to stifle dissenting viewpoints.
Said Rebecca Vilkomerson, Executive Director of JVP, “There is a reason for the dramatic difference in the way these students were treated for challenging an Israeli public official, and the way JVP members and others are treated for engaging in similar protests. Widespread Islamphobia and attempts to suppress views supportive of Palestinians surely contributed to a decision to go after these students.”