Muslim student group at UC Irvine faces suspension

The Muslim Student Union at the University of California Irvine faces a one-year suspension from campus activities, four months after Muslim students disrupted a campus speech by Israel’s ambassador to the United States.

A UC Irvine investigation found that the Muslim Student Union violated policy by disrupting Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren's public speech and compounded the violation by lying that the group didn’t orchestrate the disruption.

UC Irvine spokeswoman Kathy Lawhon said a disciplinary committee recommends stripping the student group of its official campus status and university funding for one year. Lawhon added that the organization would have to accept probation the following year and perform 50 hours of community service for each member.

"The basis of the recommendation was that these students had been warned ahead of time that what they were planning was a violation of campus policy," she said.

A lawyer for the Muslim Student Union said the investigation relied on many anonymous sources. The group is appealing the recommendation. The students’ interruption of the Israeli ambassador’s speech became a flashpoint between Jewish and Muslim activists on and off campus.

The Jewish Federation of Orange County learned of the recommended suspension over the weekend, said Charles Harris, a spokesman for the organization.

The Jewish Federation found out about the recommended suspension after filing a Freedom of Information Act request.

"The university's disciplinary action regarding the MSU establishes an important and appropriate precedent and sends a powerful message to other universities across the nation,'' said Shalom Elcott, president and chief executive of the Jewish Federation Orange County.

Reem Salahi, an attorney for the MSU, criticized the decision and hinted it may lead to a First Amendment lawsuit if university officials uphold the ban.

"I am disappointed this information was released at this point,'' Salahi said. "I obviously don't agree with the recommendation. I think it's unfair, unwarranted and really jeopardizes their First Amendment rights ... I'm hopeful the university will not sustain this recommendation.''

The recommendation came from UCI's Student Conduct Review committee, Lawhon said. Ultimately, the Muslim Student Union can appeal a suspension up to the chancellor's office. It was not immediately clear how long the appeals would take.

The university has been rocked by cries of anti-Semitism over the past several years as the Muslim Student Union booked pro-Palestinian speakers critical of Israel.

KPCC wire services contributed to this report.

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