Defense rests on Irvine 11 trial


SANTA ANA — Defense attorneys for 10 college students accused of disrupting a speech at UC Irvine last year by the Israeli ambassador to the United States rested their case Thursday.

Closing arguments are expected Monday, after which time the jury will deliberate on whether the UCI and UC Riverside students committed a crime when they repeatedly disrupted Ambassador Michael Oren in February 2010 when he spoke about U.S.-Israeli relations.

The 10 members of the so-called Irvine 11 never took the stand.

The Orange County district attorney’s office charged the students with two misdemeanor counts of conspiring to and disrupting a public speech. An 11th student will be dropped from the case if he completes community service in Costa Mesa.


If convicted, the students face up to six months in jail.

As part of his rebuttal, prosecutor Dan Wagner showed the jury a video the students watched while they allegedly planned how to disrupt Oren’s speech. The video showed a protest at the University of Chicago in 2009, when former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visited.

The defense’s last witnesses included Kareem Elsayed, a UCI graduate who attended his first political speech in 2001 as a freshman.

The Muslim Student Union had invited Amir Abdel Malik, a controversial Muslim speaker, to speak on campus. Elsayed said about 15 to 20 students protested and, for about 15 minutes, prevented Malik from delivering his message.

Elsayed said what he saw got him excited about political activism on a university campus.

But Wagner challenged Elsayed to say whether he believed that those who prevented Malik should have been reprimanded for their actions.

“I obviously didn’t like that they interrupted the speaker,” Elsayed said, “But yeah, it’s acceptable.”

UCLA sociology professor Steven Clayman, an expert on audience behavior during public speeches, told the jury that the students’ disruptions did not exceed the norms because Oren finished his speech. Oren, however, did cancel a planned question-and-answer session.

In fact, administrators’ negative response to the protests contributed to the delay and further prevented Oren from resuming his speech.

“You could see a difference when administrators stopped participating and stopped responding to protesters,” Clayman said. “Each episode was shorter than the previous; [Oren] was moving faster.”

Wagner objected to Clayman’s response. The judge agreed to remove part of it from the records.

Emails among the students discussing how to protest Oren’s visit were also read to the jury to show the students’ state of mind at the time. The emails show the students reminding each other to remain focused and get people to learn about the truth.

“We are the voices of the Palestinian people,” read part of an email.

Twitter: @MonaShadia