A group of 11 Muslim students, against whom the Orange County district attorney has filed criminal charges for disrupting a public speech by Michael Oren, Israel's Ambassador to the U.S. on the University of California, Irvine campus in February 2010, has now received the backing of a group of 100 faculty members.

The group, comprising five deans, has written to the attorney requesting him to drop the charges against the students, saying that while the students had acted inappropriately in preventing the Ambassador from speaking and being heard, they, along with the Muslim Student Union to which they belonged, had been sufficiently penalized and disciplined by the University administration for their misdemeanor.

The 11 students - known as the Irvine 11, even though three of them actually studied at the University of California, Riverside - had shouted down Oren repeatedly with anti-Israel protests, threatening the continuity of his speech. This was discovered to be a pre-meditated and planned attempt coordinated by the Muslim Union to stop the event. Following the incident, the students had been arrested and the MSU had been suspended for a quarter after investigations proved its involvement in the protests. It has been placed on two years' probation and its members have been ordered by the University to perform 100 hours of community service.

Now, faculty members petitioning for the cancellation of criminal charges feel that the above constitutes sufficient punishment and the conviction of the students by the Court would only thwart the healing process on a campus, long known to have witnessed strong anti-Semitic undercurrents and tensions between the Jewish and Arab student communities.

There has, in fact, already been some talk of the extra-harsh and selective judgment meted to the students, especially since similar anti-Israel protests on other campuses earlier have passed off with much less penalty. In conversation with The New York Times, the leader of a Jewish student group on Irvine campus also expressed fear that the district attorney's stance might be attributed to pressure from Jewish groups and could thus trigger a backlash.

The defendants are scheduled to be arraigned on March 11 at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana, and could face up to six months in prison if convicted.