The verdict was just announced a few hours ago, but, predictably, the Irvine 11 have already been turned into hero-martyrs all over the web. Though there’s no knowing yet whether the students involved planned this kind of treatment for themselves, their website and twitter stream make it appear that they’ve been ready and waiting for this for some time.
This makes it doubly important that people look at both sides of the issue.
I was in a group with Ambassador Oren just an hour or two before his speech in Irvine, at a pastor’s reception at Mariner’s Church. He had a lot to say about the opposition he knew he’d probably face at Irvine. It’s a shame his comments have not been more widely aired, as they were both interesting and illuminating.
Here’s a video in case you haven’t heard what happened. In February, 2010 Ambassador Michael Oren, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, was invited to speak at the University of California, Irvine. Though school officials practically begged the hecklers to behave, a number of students so disrupted his talk that a planned Q & A session was cancelled and several students from UC Irvine and UC Riverside were afterwards arrested.
This morning an Orange County, CA court found ten of the students guilty of conspiring to disrupt the Ambassador’s speech, and of then following through with plans to disrupt it.
As he was leaving the pastor’s meeting, Ambassador Oren mentioned that he expected to meet some opposition in the coming hours at Irvine—and that he was glad his detractors would likely be present, because he really wanted to spend time listening to and dialoguing with them. I can’t quote him directly, but I do know he said that such people were the audience he most cared about. He appreciated that they were passionate about an issue he also felt passionately about, and he expressed a strong desire to fully understand their objections and to spend time addressing their concerns.
Of course, anyone can say that. But Ambassador Oren spoke so firmly about his desire for fair, honest, productive dialogue with Palestinians and their supporters that it’s hard to discount him. Had the students who disrupted his speech instead asked him to have a real conversation about real issues, he surely would have given them his time.
Unfortunately, it seems that’s not what the Irvine 11 wanted. Too bad—if they’d really wanted to start a conversation, as their website claims, they could have had quite a conversation with Michael Oren that day in Irvine. It’s a pity they decided to settle for less.