Hillel condemns the outrageous efforts of anti-Israel students at University of California, Irvine to prevent Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren from speaking on campus during an event that was co-sponsored by Hillel of Orange County. The appearance of Amb. Oren on campus could have been an opportunity for students and community members to dialogue with an internationally renowned diplomat as well as to foster understanding and cooperation. Instead, the ill-conceived verbal attack on Amb. Oren was an egregious assault on freedom of expression that undermined the foundation of the academic enterprise.
Hillel thanks Amb. Oren for sharing his insights with students at Irvine and for the dignity with which he represented Israel and the Jewish people. We join with UC Irvine President Michael Drake and other faculty members who have denounced this incident as intolerant and intolerable.
Hillel expresses its support for the staff and student leaders of Hillel of Orange County who helped to plan this event and who are now working to heal one another and the campus.
"Hillel refuses to be deterred in our efforts to bring responsible pro-Israel voices to campus, despite verbal abuse and intimidation," says Hillel President Wayne L. Firestone. "We believe that freedom of expression is Israel's best ally: In the free marketplace of ideas, Israel's case will carry the day."
The incident took place on February 8, when Amb. Oren was forced to interrupt his address and leave the stage by hecklers. Eleven demonstrators were removed from the auditorium and detained by police. Press accounts indicate that the disruptions were planned by anti-Israel student groups on campus.
Orange County Hillel serves 300 Jewish students each year at UC Irvine alone. This year they won the "Vision and Values Award for Development" from Hillel, opened a new student center, and have grown their budget by nearly 10 percent. Orange County Hillel has worked hard to ensure that students are equipped to deal with anti-Israel activism. They have the benefit of a full-time Israel fellow who has worked extensively with an active pro-Israel advocacy group, Anteaters for Israel, which offers weekly advocacy trainings, student retreats and much more.
Accounts of this incident were published in the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register, Jerusalem Post, and Ynet.