New: Israel Ambassador’s Open Letter to UC Irvine Students
If I had to guess, I would say the Muslim Student Union hopes that Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, will never return to UC Irvine. They may be disappointed to know he is interested in returning. Maybe I am wrong and they will welcome the opportunity to engage in real dialogue and stop grandstanding to gain undue publicity for their efforts.
The following is an open letter to UC Irvine students. It is live on the New University website and I would expect it to be written in the print edition, which appears on Tuesday. The New University is the name of the school’s student newspaper.
Here is what it says
March 8, 2010
An Open Letter to the students of UC Irvine from Dr. Michael Oren, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States
Several weeks ago, I was invited to your university to provide my perspective on the Middle East peace process, the question of Iranian nuclearization and U.S.-Israel relations. Prior to assuming the role of ambassador I taught at several American universities – Harvard, Yale and Georgetown – and greatly enjoyed interacting with the students. For this reason, I chose to visit a number of campuses during my first diplomatic trip to California. I know that today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders and believe keenly in the need to provide these future statesmen with an Israeli perspective of Middle Eastern affairs.
I was fully aware that the climate on many American campuses is critical and sometimes even hostile to Israel, and that the University of California, Irvine could arouse debate. Yet for precisely that reason, I wanted to speak at UCI. While it would have been far easier to engage students who agreed with Israel’s policies, I much preferred an exchange with students of opposing viewpoints. I came not just to lecture, but to listen and to learn.
Unfortunately, my remarks were repeatedly interrupted by a group of students that declined my invitation to dialogue and instead assaulted me with cries of “war criminal” and “murderer.” Repeated urgings by Chancellor Michael Drake and Professor Mark Petracca for civility and respect for the freedom of speech went ignored. University administrators were finally forced to arrest a number of the hecklers, and I was able to finish my speech. The remaining rabble-rousers stormed out to the applause of the many other students and community members who had come to hear me out. But I did not applaud. Rather, I was saddened by the loss of this opportunity to exchange ideas with those who disagreed with me and, at the very least, to introduce them to different perspectives.
Since then, videos of the incident at Irvine have proliferated on the Internet and attracted significant media attention. I have received heartfelt apologies from UC President Mark Yudof and Chancellor Drake. The response has been overwhelmingly favorable in defense of my right to free expression on campus and the students’ right to hear those remarks.
Still, I am not satisfied. I came to UCI for the opportunity to exchange ideas — a reasonable intention that was hijacked by a minority of students. The disruptive measures exhibited by these students only underscore the importance for dialogue, especially on the frontline of higher learning. The tragic fallout from this lecture is that those impassioned individuals most needing exposure to the Israeli perspective — and also needing to address their concerns in an appropriate manner — chose not to listen but rather to disrupt the event. Their methods, though championed by some, undermine the democratic principles on which the university system rests.
I have not given up hope on Irvine. I would willingly return to your campus and meet with those individuals whose views may not agree with mine as long as we respect the decorum of dialogue and free speech. Middle East issues are not devoid of emotion or nuance. Only with respect and sensitivity from all sides can we attain the conditions necessary to tackle one of the great issues of our time and realize the vision of peace.
Reaction from Jewish Federation Orange County and a UCI student was immediate and swift:
“As a community we fully support Ambassador Oren’s offer to return to UCI and hope that civility, respect and common courtesy will prevail says Jewish Federation Orange County President Shalom C. Elcott. “The best response to hate is education. This has been and continues to drive our philosophy and actions regarding the challenges at UC Irvine. Despite the fact that the ambassador was interrupted and his free speech rights violated, we appreciate the fact that the Ambassador stood firm and was able to finish his remarks. Considering the level of hostility and disrespect, we applaud Ambassador Oren’s offer to return to UCI and meet with the students who treated him in such an inhospitable way. Unfortunately, the MSU student disruptors were not interested in a civil discourse and the pursuit of knowledge that night. Instead they conspired to control the outcome of the event, not only losing the opportunity to engage in a constructive dialogue, but also losing badly in the court of public opinion.”
A student’s perspective…..
Moran Cohen, third year business-economics major and President of Anteaters for Israel said, “We really appreciate the Ambassador reaching out to our campus despite the terrible actions of the students who interrupted his speech. We were thankful that he returned to the stage to finish his speech and hope that he will revisit UCI soon. As students , we were embarrassed and disappointed by the members of the Muslim Student Union who attempted to ruin the event and to ensure negative publicity to our campus. I hope that as responsible students we will all stand together against censorship and intimidation of minority groups.
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