Fourteen civil rights organizations, including the Jewish Voice for Peace and the Center for Constitutional Rights, sent a letter Thursday to UC Irvine condemning its recommendation to suspend the Muslim Student Union on campus.
The groups, which represent a wide range of races, ethnicities and religions, say suspending the MSU will alienate the students, especially in the post 9/11 era.
"Following Sept. 11, Muslims in America have faced intensified hate crimes, violence and discrimination, as well as racial, ethnic and religious profiling by local and federal law enforcement," the letter reads. "Disbanding the MSU, even temporarily, greatly exacerbates these larger harms and further stigmatizes the Muslim community.
"Even if another Muslim group is allowed to form to alleviate these concerns, banning the MSU nonetheless marginalizes this vulnerable community and brands them as perpetual outsiders."
A UCI Student Conduct Committee in May recommended suspending the MSU for a year following an investigation into a Feb. 8 incident where students repeatedly disrupted Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren's speech on campus. Oren's speech about U.S.-Israeli relations, which was sponsored by UCI School of Law, School of Social Sciences and a Jewish student group, the Anteaters for Israel, was repeatedly disrupted by eight UCI and three UC Riverside students.
The students were arrested by campus police for the disruption, but later released. Although their case was forwarded to the Orange County district attorney's office, charges were never filed.
The school investigation holds that the protests were organized and orchestrated by the MSU. The investigation cites minutes from MSU's general assembly meeting, which detailed their plans and goals for disrupting the speech.
But the MSU's students say the organization was not responsible for the individuals who choose to disrupt the speech on their own accord. Alaa Alomar, who served as the group's political activities coordinator until June, has told the Daily Pilot that the MSU held the meeting five days before Oren's speech to discuss a plan responding to his presence.
Although the group wanted to orchestrate a protest, the plan fell through because of disagreements among the MSU members on what course of action should be taken, she said, adding that the protest by the students became separate from the organization itself.
The letter sent by the 14 organizations states that even if the MSU organized the plan, suspending it is "unparalleled in its severity."
"These (11) students are hardly the first to protest speakers on university campuses," the letter states. "There have been countless campus protests of speakers, many of which were even officially sanctioned by student groups, none of which resulted in the types of sanctions here proposed."
The letter cites an incident in 2006 where the Students for Peace and Justice interrupted a speaker, to the point that he couldn't finish. The civil rights organizations say the school did not reprimand the group or the students who participated in the protest.
Cathy Lawhon, UCI spokeswoman, said information on whether the Students for Peace and Justice were reprimanded individually would not be available.
"There's no way they could possibly know that because if they reprimanded individual students it wouldn't be public because it wouldn't be public information," she said.
Unlike the Jewish Federation Orange County, which made its stands against the MSU clear to UCI, the Jewish Voice for Peace is seeking an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, according to its website, and it's standing beside the MSU.
The 14 civil rights organizations are:
Asian Law Caucus
Afghan-American Bar Assn.
American Muslims for Palestine
Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
Arab Resource and Organizing Center
Center for Constitutional Rights
Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles
Council on American-Islamic Relations, California
Jewish Voice for Peace
Muslim Legal Fund of America
National Lawyers Guild
South Asian Americans Leading Together
South Asian Bar Assn. – Northern California