The efforts of pro-Palestinian “Occupy” protesters to stifle the free speech of pro-Israel speakers nationwide continued at the University of New Mexico on Thursday night when a small group tried to shout down a speech by author Nonie Darwish. This time, their pre-planned disruption led to a physical altercation.
Darwish, founder of Arabs for Israel and director of Former Muslims United, was speaking at an event titled, “Why the Arab Spring is Failing” organized by the University of New Mexico Israel Alliance and the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
Activists from “(un)Occupy Albuquerque” – a group allied with the Occupy Wall Street movement – started a “people’s mic” seen frequently during the Occupy Wall Street protests.
As seen on a video posted to YouTube (below), the pro-Palestinian activists yelled: “Mic check! Nonie Darwish speaks for Israeli apartheid! And genocide at the hands of the IDF!”
Shortly after the “mic check” begins, the audience is heard shouting at those disrupting the speech, and chanting “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” Then, a scuffle begins. Though the camera angle is tight – which complicates providing an objective description — it appears an older audience member tried to grab the paper (presumably the script of anti-Israel slogans) out of one of the Occupy protester’s hands, which lead to pushing and shoving.
This as other audience members further away shouted profanities, urging them to “Get out!”
It’s unclear from the tape if an older male audience member lunged at the protesters or tripped on a chair and fell forward on then.
The activists and their supporters claimed three of them were “were assaulted on UNM campus for simply trying to make their voices heard and it is a shock that a non-violent action was met with such aggression.”
If you were wondering what “(un)Occupy” is, it’s part of the “Occupy” movement, but protests the movement’s use of the word “occupy,” because, according to its website:
The word “occupy” in general is offensive to most Native Americans and indigenous people and people of color in general – again in general. Occupations have displaced us for generations by Europeans.
After the protesters left and she was able to resume her speech, Darwish told the audience, “They could have waited to prove me wrong but they can’t unfortunately and I feel sad for them because our children are being poisoned mentally.”
In the description accompanying a YouTube video, one of those who came to hear Darwish speak wrote:
The Nonie Darwish talk had a big turnout and most of the attendees were glad they were there, in spite of SJP and the Occupy people getting together to disrupt the talk and prevent the speaker from speaking in the name of free speech and tolerance. Several people in the audience went to chase them out of the lecture hall, in defense of their own free speech rights. The protesters took choice videos, lied about many things and plastered it all around so it would become news. Strange that these protesters were willing to serve as an object lesson and proof of what Nonie Darwish was telling the audience: Criticism of Islam is not tolerated, and following Sharia, others have no rights or freedoms.
Local news seemed to focus on the arguments made by the Occupy activists:
The pro-Palestinian (un)Occupy activists claimed their free speech was defended under the law, but the courts have issued contrary opinions on this kind of speech hijacking.
A California court last year found 10 Muslim students guilty of disrupting Israeli ambassador Michael Oren’s speech at the University of California, Irvine and also convicted them for conspiring to disrupt the speech. During the February 2010 event, they stood up, one by one, and shouted prepared statements such as “propagating murder is not an expression of free speech.” The AP reported then:
Prosecutor Dan Wagner told jurors the students acted as censors to block the free flow of ideas and infringed upon the rights of 700 people who had gone to the Irvine campus to hear Oren.
Wagner showed video footage of university officials pleading with students to behave, but they kept interrupting the lecture. Wagner also showed emails sent among members of UC Irvine’s Muslim Student Union planning the disruption and calculating who was willing to get arrested.
Defense attorneys countered there were no hard rules for the speech, and the students might have been discourteous but didn’t break the law.
While free speech is protected under the First Amendment, allowing others to exercise that speech unimpeded, without being shouted down, is perhaps no less important.