By Victoria Martinez
Standing outside Langson Library four members from Anteaters For Israel (AFI) try to pass out fliers for their upcoming event. Two of the members stand around the booth with about twenty 5 x 8 fliers in their hands. The flyers are bright blue announcing the speech of Michael Oren, who is the Ambassador of Israel to the United States, will make at University of California at Irvine, on February 8, 2010. Michael Oren's face captures most of the fliers space. The two members stand in the middle of Ring Road with the flyers out asking students walking by if they would like to see Micael Oren speack. One of the members is Ilana Zelner, the Vice President External for AFI, casually yells, "Ambassador to the US is coming come and check it out!" Ilana's voice is much larger than her tiny body, yet few students even take flyer let alone acknowledge her presence. Most students rush pass not even looking at the flyer. Other student s grab the flyer and either fold it right away, or thrust it into their backpacks or pockets without even looking twice at the flyer. The entire week before Oren came to speak at UC Irvine, AFI flyered outside Langson Library. Nobody, including AFI, anticipated that the outcome of the speech that they are flyering for would make not only national news but global news.
Finally after spending more than four Wednesday meetings preparing for the speech, the event arrived for AFI. AFI was not the only organization that helped prepare for Michael Oren's speech, but they did do the most promotional work. Moran Cohen the President of AFI was one of the people that were able to introduce Oren. During her introduction Cohen looked over to her fellow club members in AFI to insure that they were all conduction themselves orderly. AFI was the only organization that decided to come out to the speech. Five hundred peopel were also attending the speech. The Pacific Ballroom was filled to the max, and not just with people that agreed with AFI's beliefs or Oren's beliefs. AFI was not surprised at all by the large turnout of the Muslim Community. Ilana said, "We knew they were going to come, so we made sure that AFI also had a large turnout". In order to make sure that there was a good amount from the Jewish community present, the Jewish fraternity on campus, Alpha Epsilon Pi, cancelled their Monday night meetingto encourage memebrs to attend the speech. Even with this encouragement only about eighty members of AFI attended, which is much different from the size of their facebook group which at two hundred forty-nine members. Most of AFI arrived right at 5:30 pm, which is when the dorrs opened. They all sit towards the front on the right hand side. The officers of AFI dispersed themselves among their group preparing themselves for something to happen. Ilana said, "We knew MSU was planning on doing something we just didn't know what". MSU did not exactly plan on doing anything, however, other members of the Muslim Community, did have something planned.
Oren begins his speech but immediately everyone is reminded that the Jewish Community of Orange County is not the only audience in attendance. It felt like mere seconds, and then a young man shouts at Oren, disrupting his speech. Moments later another person stands up and yells at Oren claiming Zionism is racism. According to Milana AFI "indirectly" supports Zionism. This claim that the audience member made personally hurt many of the members of AFI, yet none of the AFI members stood up and yelled back at the man. the executive members of AFI, including Ilana, were instructed to make sure that no member of AFI conducted themselves in rude behaviors. AFI had prepared themselves for something like this to happen. Eleven attendees of the event stood up and yelled at Oren during the speech. Then, after the eleventh disruption the rest of the audience members who do not agree with Oren's beliefs left. About sixty of the five hundred in attendance walked out yelling and chanting, As the crowd of people left, the other audience most Jewish, and the members of AFI started to chant back at them "Am Yisrael Chai", which means "The people of Isreal lives". The large pack that walked out started to protest outside of the Pacific Ballroom. At the end of the speech by Oren it seemed that no one actually knew what Oren said. Ilana commented about the event saying, "MSU members who disrupted the speech were unfortunately successful in suppressing Oren's free speech to the point where he was losing his train of thought, and the guests who attended the speech were not able to focus." Even if audience members tried to focus they were not able to hear Oren as clearly because the protesters were louder than Oren. After hours of planning by AFI their had work disintegrated. Ilana was disappointed that the sixty people that left, occupied seats that others who wanted to listen could have sat in. Pacific Ballroom holds five hundred people, but AFI had to turn down about eighty people. AFI was not surprised at all by the actions of some of the attendees. Ilana said that she knew something was going to happen she just did not know what.
After the controversial event AFI had to come up with a plan of attack. AFI was not going to allow people to control what can be heard and said at their own event. AFI wanted their goal of publicizing Israel in a positive manner to overcome the negative aspect of the event. AFI realized that the best wauy to publicize for free and easy is facebook. The next day Ilana and other executive members of AFI created a facebook group called "Students Condemning Censorship by the UC Irvine Muslim Student Union". The group sounds like a direct attack against MSU, which is exactly what it is. MSU and AFI have had nothing but conflicts for the past eight years. Occasionally the groups have tried to come together and make peace but nothing has ever turned out successful. Milana Kvitalashvili, the Greek Social Chair for AFI, explained the reason MSU and AFI do not get along is because both organizations have such strong roots on either side of the Middle East conflict. Milana even admitted that by her being a part of AFI it has caused her to not be able to form friendships with people that are Muslims on campus.
The facebook group that AFI created does exactly what AFI wanted. The group became very popular not just within UCI, but also all over California. Most of the posts were people saying how upset and embarrassed they were to be a part of a school that allows this kind of behavior . Lynsey Moncrieff ,a recent graduate student of UCI, wrote "I just watched it and am so embarrassed that this kind of behavior is still happening". A couple of days after the event many members of AFI including, Ilana, changed their profile picture on facebook to a "My Free Speech is NOT Negotiable". ilana continues to use facebook as a form to voice her opinions by her status or posting videos or articles on her wall that relate to this issue. Ilana says that after the event we realized AFI's "freedom of speech was suppressed", and they felt that starting a free speech campaign would be the most beneficial. Since all of the UC hate crimes, Ilana now will write on the walls of hate crime facebook pages claiming that what the elven attendees that spoke up did, was a hate crime. Besides facebook groups the YouTube videos became an open forum for people to voice their opinions on the issue. Both supporters of AFI and MSU started to share their differing opinions by leaving comments on all the videos of Oren's speech at UCI.
The next meeting that AFI held was on Wednesday, February 10th, and it was one of the biggest turnout for an AFI meeting. Usually around thirty people come to these meetings, which are held every Wednesday in SSL (Social Science Lab). However, this time about sixty students showed up to voice their opinions about the events. Most of the members of AFI felt personally hurt by the students that decided to disrupt the speech. Ilana put hours into planning the event, as did other members of AFI, and she was not able to even hear the speech. AFI felt that MSU turned their event into a MSU event. This meeting was different from regular AFI meetings. Usually AFI has an educational period about Israel, and then a planning session for the next upcoming event. At this meeting members of AFI created an open forum where anyone could voice their opinions about the event the previous Monday. A large amount of the organization felt that they were being discriminated fro being a Zionist and being Jewish. Not every member of AFI is Jewish, but at this particular meeting only Jewish students decided to speak up. One member, Daniel Uchitel, said that he was embarrassed to be Jewish at this school. Daniel also commented that he feels "everyone judges me because I am Jewish". This meeting lasted longer than the normal hour; instead it was two hours long.
The event on February 8th soon became known to national news, forcing the administration at UC Irvine comment on the incident. Milana atated before the event that she believes that the UC Irvine administration typically side with the Muslim Student Union. However, on this particular case the administration appeared to not side with MSU. Numerous emails were sent to every student about this issue, and emails were still being sent out as late as March 4, 2010. The last email was form the UC Irvine Academic Senate Cabinet, which explained that UC Irvine is a place, "to engage in lively debate within a context of mutual respect", however, UC Irvine, "must safeguard invited speakers' ability to deliver their speeches and protesters' ability to protest in appropriate ways (i.e. stating a contrary position without preventing the speech from proceeding)."
This event will be another reason for the tension between MSU and AFI to increase even more. on March 2, 2010, almost a month after the incident MSU and AFI both held booths on Ring Road just feet apart from each other. The tension between these two organizations is dramatic and indescribable. Some members of MSU had tamborines, while members of AFI were waiving Israel flags. There is so much hate between the two groups. Milana explained that the tension is there because both sides are "emotionally tied to the middle East". If that is the case, then sometimes it feels like the Middle East. AFI found out that MSU was going to have a booth that day on Ring Road, so they also reserved a booth. AFI feels the need to defend themselves, and always have a presence at any MSU event.
UC Irvine is often thought as being an anti-Semitic university. The event on February 8th, made the Jewish Community feel even more strongly about this view. Many Jewish publications sent out letter warning parents not to send their children to UCI. AFI is actually becoming a smaller organization because less and less Jewish students attend UCI each year, and now after oren's speech very few Jewish students will want to go to UCI, or will be allowed by their parents to attend. In order to address this issue, Michael Oren released a letter to UC Irvine on March 8, 2010, saying that he would like to come back to UCI and speak. He hopes that this time he will be able to have a question and answer period. AFI is also hoping that he will be able come back. Ilana wants people to come that "actually want to hear Michael Oren speak and not disrupt him". There is no set time of Oren's next arrival. AFI is currently planning their iFest week, where they attempt to bring the spirit of Israel to the UCI campus.
Interviewed three people
Attended two AFI meetings
Attended the Michael Oren speech
Researched on the internet, on facebook, collegeacb, YouTube, and NewU