Ambassador Michael Oren visited the UC Irvine campus on February 8, 2010. Students, believed to be members of the Muslim Student Union, repeatedly interrupted his speech, accusing him of such things as propagating murder and being a war criminal.
Orange County's district attorney says that the students planned the protest and he has hit them with charges that could send them to jail for up to six months, according to The Orange County Register. Each student is charged with one misdemeanor count of conspiring to disrupt a meeting and one misdemeanor count of disrupting a meeting.
"These defendants meant to stop this speech and stop anyone else from hearing his ideas, and they did so by disrupting a lawful meeting," District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said in a statement.
"This is a clear violation of the law and failing to bring charges against this conduct would amount to a failure to uphold the Constitution," Rackauckas said.
The investigation by the district attorney's office has sparked outrage among some who argue that peaceful protesters should not be prosecuted.
Jacqueline Goodman, a criminal defense attorney representing some of the students, said that the charges would hurt the cause of free speech.
"The last thing we want to do is inhibit the free exchange of ideas, and that's the only thing that prosecuting these students can achieve," Goodman said, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Authorities arrested the hecklers at the event. College officials suspended the Muslim Student Union for an academic quarter as punishment, according to Southern California Public Radio. The group has since been reinstated on campus.
Prosecutors accuse Mohamed Mohy-Eldeen Abdelgany, 23, of sending messages to the Muslim Student Union message board with a "game plan" for disrupting the event.
Jesse Rosenblum, president of the Zionist Organization of America's Orange County chapter, says he supports the criminal charges against the students.
"It is only appropriate that violations of our valuable First Amendment protections should be prosecuted," Rosenblum said in a statement, according to The Los Angeles Times.