WASHINGTON - Some 100 Arab students tried to disrupt a speech by Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren during a speech at the University of California in Irvine Monday.
Oren is currently touring the West Coast giving lectures, and decided to visit Irvine despite the fact that the local campus is considered hostile to Israel, and despite the high likelihood that there would be attempts to disrupt his speech.
The protest against Oren was rather organized. Two groups of some fifty students gathered on both ends of the lecture hall, which contained 700 people. Shortly after Oren began speaking, Arab students got up and started to interrupt him.
One student let out the first outburst, shouting, "Michael Oren! Propagating murder is not an expression of free speech!" The man's yelling was followed by both heavy applause and objections.
Once every minute or so a student would stand up in one of the corners of the hall and shout: "I accuse you of murder". This continued, and the ambassador's speech was repeatedly interrupted by students who shouted: "How many Palestinians have you killed?" and "Israel is a murderer".
At this point Oren had difficulty continuing his speech, and left to the next room while local police entered the hall and detained 10 students. It was later reported that the university was considering taking steps against them.
'This is not Tehran'
The ambassador later returned to the auditorium and continued his speech, stressing that he plans to realize his right to speak: "This is not Tehran," Oren told the students.
The demonstrators then got up and left the hall in an organized fashion. They continued their protest outside.
The ambassador went on to say that he regretted the departure of the Arab students, since they of all people are the ones who should listen to what he has to say. He spoke mainly of the strategic ties between the US and Israel, and of the Iranian nuclear threat.
Director of the University's Political Science department, Professor Mark P. Petracca, told the protesters, "This is beyond embarrassing...this is no way for our undergraduate students to behave. We have an opportunity to hear from a policy maker relevant to one of the most important issues facing this planet and you are preventing not only yourself from hearing him but hundreds of other people in this room and hundreds of other people in an overflow room. Shame on you! This is not an example of free speech."
'We are here to stay'
Moran Cohen, a Jewish student at the university and president of a pro-Israel group on campus who helped organize the event said the group knew protesters were planning to interrupt Oren's speech, which is why they brought police and security to the event.
She said she was glad the ambassador returned to the stage and finished his speech properly. Cohen added that people stayed until the end of the speech and that the event ended on a good note.
Cohen said that her message to the Arab students of the university was that the group is here to stay, and that they cannot be stopped. She added that the university's board has said that administrative measures will be taken against the protesters.
Irvine has the second largest concentration of Arabs in the United States after Dearborn in Michigan, and the local university is the most problematic regarding Israel. Each year, around Israel's Independence Day, a week of anti-Israel activity is held on the university's campus.
Several months ago an event was held at the university with the participation of British MP George Galloway, a prominent pro-Palestinian activist, in which donations were collected for Hamas.
The local Muslim students union is under federal investigation, on suspicion of gathering funds for terror activity.
Olga Gouresky contributed to this report