In a Santa Ana courtroom Monday, closing arguments will be heard in a case involving Muslim students and the right to free speech. But the so-called Irvine 11 trial, the issues of which are deeply rooted at UC Irvine, has not quite resonated on campus — yet.
The jury's verdict is what could matter, said David Snow, co-director of the school's Center for Citizen Peacebuilding, a group that promotes reconciliation. "The hammer hasn't really fallen yet."
There is no doubt that the shouting down of Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren by students at UC Irvine last year was raucous and reignited Israeli-Arab tensions on campus. The defense says the students had the right to yell in protest. Prosecutors say the students went too far.
Aminah Galal, a UC Irvine senior involved with the Muslim Student Union, the campus group that organized the protest, is preparing for the fall quarter, which begins Thursday. She expects the Irvine 11 trial will have a chilling effect on free speech, no matter the outcome.
The case creates a "fear of student activism," she said. "Now, students think twice" about something that she considers a valuable aspect of campus life.
It was on Feb. 8 of last year when Oren, at the invitation of several UC Irvine organizations and academic departments, came to give a speech about U.S.-Israeli relations. One student after another stood and shouted at the stage, accusing Israel of oppressing Palestinians.
"Michael Oren, propagating murder is not an expression of free speech," one student said.
"You, sir, are an accomplice to genocide," another yelled.
In the end, there were 10 interruptions and a shortened speech. The protesters were peacefully escorted out by police, and 11 were cited for disrupting a public event.
UC Irvine quickly punished the Muslim Student Union, suspending it for a year and placing it on disciplinary probation for another year.
Then, seven months ago, the Orange County district attorney's office filed criminal charges.
The students, seven of them from UC Irvine and three from UC Riverside, are each charged with a misdemeanor for conspiring to disrupt Oren's speech and a misdemeanor for disrupting his speech. Charges against an 11th defendant were dropped pending completion of community service.
The students face up to six months in jail if convicted.