Thursday April 8th 2010
Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign: Media Release
JUDGEMENT DUE ON “RACIST” ISRAEL PROTEST
Five Palestine campaigners contesting the relevancy of a “racially aggravated conduct” charge in relation to their protest against Israel’s blockade of Gaza will find out today if their legal challenge has been successful.
The campaigners, all members of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC), interrupted the August 2008 Edinburgh Festival concert by the Jerusalem Quartet. The classical musicians are described by their sponsors as “Prestigious Cultural Ambassadors Representing Israel and Jerusalem”, a role the campaign group claims makes them a legitimate target for protest.
They had been accused of making “comments about Jews, Israelis, and the State of Israel”, but during a three-day legal debate at Edinburgh Sheriff Court, a BBC audio recording of the event revealed that there had been no mention of “Jews”. Comments included “End the Siege of Gaza”, “Boycott Israel”, and “They are Israeli Army musicians”. A media release by the quartet’s record label had referred to the musicians as “Distinguished IDF” [Israeli Defence Force].
Legal arguments ended last week with the Procurator Fiscal Depute submitting that making such comments whether in a street protest or a classical concert would “fall foul” of current legislation. Heard together, “any reasonable person would have concluded that there was a racist element to what was said”, said the PF.
Mick Napier, SPSC chair and one of the five facing the charge was upbeat about the case: “1000 ‘reasonable people’ did hear our comments, as did the quartet themselves, but nobody considered them racist. It was 6 months after the concert that the PF changed the charge from breach of the peace to ‘racism’, even though the only new development was that 1400 Palestinians had been massacred in Gaza by the state we were protesting against.
“This is a win-win situation. If the case goes to trial, it will be Israel in the dock, not us. The PF knows the racism charge is unfounded, so the best he hopes for is a conviction for disturbing the peace. But the racism allegation means we will be inviting a string of witnesses from Palestine, Israel, and South Africa who are lined up to educate the PF on the real racism and apartheid that Palestinians face every day. We wouldn’t have been able to do that if the PF had stuck with the original breach of the peace charge.”
Deborah Fink, of campaign group Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, took part in a similar protest at the Jerusalem Quartet’s Wigmore Hall concert last week. Five protestors were ejected but no arrests were made. Said Fink: “It is the charges themselves that are racist. For the prosecutor to submit that it is ‘racist’ to say ‘End the Siege of Gaza’ shows callous indifference to the very real suffering of the Palestinians. While Israel’s crimes go on, we must speak out.”
However, Dr Ezra Golombok, director of the Israel Information Office in Scotland suggested that criticising Israel was indeed racist: “That criticism of Israel descends disturbingly close to antisemitic stereotype is obvious”, he said.
Notes for editors:
1. The Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign started in autumn 2000 in response to the Palestinian second uprising against Israeli occupation (Intifada). The SPSC has branches and groups of supporters in several Scottish cities and universities, as well as individual members across Scotland and elsewhere.
For further information, contact:
SPSC Chair, Mick Napier: 0131 620 0052; 07958002591
(default reply to this email)
2. The campaigners interrupted the Aug 29th 2008 Edinburgh Festival performance of the Jerusalem Quartet at Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall. They were originally charged with Breach of the Peace, but weeks after last year’s violence in Gaza which took the lives of 1400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis, the Procurator Fiscal changed the charge to “racially aggravated conduct”.
The campaigners maintain that their criticism was focussed on the State of Israel, and that as the Jerusalem Quartet are sponsored by their state to “promote the policy interests of the State of Israel via culture and art” [contract between the Jerusalem Quartet and Israel’s Foreign Ministry], their concert was a legitimate target for protest.
The group’s sponsors, the Jerusalem Foundation, describes the quartet as “Prestigious Cultural Ambassadors Representing Israel and Jerusalem”:
The accused are challenging the validity of the “racially aggravated conduct” charge in relation to a political protest focused on the State of Israel. The case is still at the pre-trial stage and no plea has been tendered.
3. Judgement on the legal debate will be given at 11am on Thursday 8th April 2010 at Edinburgh Sheriff Court. At this stage, either the charges will fall or a date will be set for trial.
4. The debate lasted three days: 21st + 22nd January 2010; and 29th Mar 2010. A report of the January debate, including a partial transcript of the BBC recording can be found here:
The Mar 29th 2010 diet had to be transferred to a larger courtroom to accommodate around 100 supporters.
5. Deborah Fink is a member of Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, and is a professional classical singer. During her protest at London’s Wigmore Hall on 29th March, she sang
Jerusalem is occupied:
Settlers destroy her peace.
We'll sing out, until apartheid
And ethnic cleansing cease.
The live BBC Radio 3 broadcast was stopped halfway through her song.
She can be contacted on request.
6. Hundreds of individuals and organisations, including Journalist John Pilger, actor Tam Dean Burn, Palestinian professor Haidar Eid, and the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network have signed an “Open letter in defence of the right to boycott Israel”:
Many have sent messages of support:
John Pilger writes that the case “should be laughed out of court”.
7. The Jerusalem Quartet did three years of national service in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) between 1997 and 2000 but according to their record label:
“They now enjoy the status of Distinguished IDF [Israel Defense Forces], playing for troops trice weekly when the JSQ is in Israel.”
See report by concert critic Jens F. Laurson: The Jerusalem Quartet at the Libr (April 13, 2007), who quotes the media release from the Jerusalem Quartet’s record label:
See also: Jerusalem Quartet loves to play; WENDY ELLIMAN SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH BULLETIN
“When their military service ended three years ago, they changed status to Distinguished IDF Musicians and continue to play for troops three times a week when they're in Israel.”
8. Dr Ezra Golombok is the director of the Israel Information Office in Scotland (Under the aegis of the Embassy of Israel): http://www.isrinfo.demon.co.uk.
Golombok is extensively quoted in the Jewish Telegraph article of 26 Feb 2010: “Should Palestinian support worry us?” (Reproduced below as Appendix 1)
9. The Jewish Chronicle report on the Mar 29th 2010 protest of the Jerusalem Quartet in London’s Wigmore Hall:
Protesters disrupt Jerusalem Quartet Wigmore Hall broadcast
10. The Brighton and Hove Palestine Solidarity Campaign press release of Mar 29th 2010 reporting the Wigmore Hall protest can be found here:
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) fully endorses the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign's call on the Edinburgh Festival to withdraw its invitation to the Jerusalem Quartet. Members of this Israeli Quartet began their career with active service in the Israeli army, where they served as "Distinguished Musicians," enjoying the sponsorship of mainstream Israeli cultural institutions such as the Jerusalem Foundation, which regards them as "prestigious cultural ambassadors, representing Israel and Jerusalem."
From the beginning, the Quartet's international tours have been actively promoted by the Israeli government. As such, and since the Quartet has not taken any clear position on the various forms of oppression of the Palestinian people, PACBI supports the Scottish PSC's call to boycott the Jerusalem Quartet as an institution that is complicit in maintaining Israel's occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people.
Jewish Telegraph 28 February 2010
Should Palestinian support worry us?
THERE has been a steady increase in support for the Palestinians in Scotland in recent years and this has led to raised levels of antisemitism in the country.
Are the constant attacks on Israel simply a manifestation of latent antisemitism within the Scottish people or are there underlying reasons why the current situation exists here?
It is true that there have been higher numbers of antisemitic incidents, including blog comments, hate mail and phone calls to Jewish individuals and organisations.
One such message read, 'Every filthy Jew in the UK should be banished, this time for good. You are a bunch of blood-sucking parasites - nothing but trouble for this country'.
There have been occasional daubings on synagogue and other walls. In an isolated community, the only Jewish pupil at one school was bullied for 'killing Christ'. When her mother complained to the teacher, the response was, 'well you did, didn't you?'.
It is clear though, that these incidents are comparatively rare. They are often related to the situation in the Middle East and particularly fuelled by events such as the war in Gaza.
Scots have always championed the underdog. When Israel was seen to be the underdog, there was a lot of support for the State. Now, the Palestinians are clearly seen as the ones who need backing.
And they are being bombarded with wholly one-sided information by a highly active anti-Israeli lobby in Scotland.
One of the main sources of anti-Israeli action is the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, formed in 2000, as a response to the second Intifada.
The SPSC is chaired by university lecturer Mick Napier. He and four colleagues are currently facing charges at the Edinburgh Sheriff Court accused of racially aggravated conduct after disrupting a concert by the Jerusalem Quartet (whom they describe as 'notoriously pro-Zionist') at the city's Queen's Hall in August 2008.
The SPSC website is filled with virulent hatred of all things Israeli. It states: "The various activities of the SPSC are related in some way to the Palestinian appeal for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israeli companies and state-supported institutions. We have identified Israel's Achilles' Heel: while the regional super-power can kill lightly-armed Palestinians with virtual impunity, the Zionist State has become deeply unpopular around the world and vulnerable to boycott.
"Wherever we unearth institutional collaboration with Israel in Scottish society, whether in universities, city councils and the Scottish Parliament, we are able to challenge it with every chance of succeeding."
SPSC has managed to latch on to the odd Holocaust survivor who compares Israel's actions with that of the Nazis and is very happy to promote its thoughts.
But is this turning most Scots against Israel and Jews?
Dr Ezra Golombok, director of the Israel Information Office in Scotland, said: "However disturbing the activities of a vociferous anti-Israel body and the upsurge in anti-Israel content in the media, it is worth trying to assess the threat to which a diminishing Jewish community feels itself subjected.
"That criticism of Israel descends disturbingly close to antisemitic stereotype is obvious, but how widely is it shared? In truth, many Scots neither know nor care much about the Israel-Arab quarrel.
"There is more antipathy between Rangers and Celtic than directed at Jews or Israelis.
"The Palestine Solidarity Committee (or its locally named clones) seems well-funded and its few activist leaders are knowledgeable, expert in exploiting any situation for sniping at Israel and at gaining publicity for themselves.
"They secure the paper support of people in the public eye, such as MSPs and claim credit for gesture politics. They are actually quite few in number, but can have some effect in inspiring (in fact irrelevant) motions in the Scottish Parliament.
"They do some damage in trying to promote boycotts of Israeli produce.
"That their views have gained wide public support is doubtful. Hard-headed Scots are not so easily swayed.
"Monitoring the letter and web comments of Scottish newspapers reveals many that are fair to Israel, but not uncritical, among the outright attacks which seem often to emanate from the same few authors.
"Many of these attacks are inaccurate in substance and are open to informed correction. Like decent people everywhere, the Scottish public feels concern if presented with heavily slanted accounts of suffering children in Gaza.
"But that concern, for at least a proportion of readers, does not extend long beyond the headlines; and the antidote to the emotion is to provide a proper factual response."
He added: "Of course the media onslaught can be frightening, but the basic sense of fairness has not departed. If we feel under attack we need to respond. The only effective way is to be well-informed on trends and happenings affecting Israel and then to put the Israel - indeed the Jewish - case in conversation in letters and on the web.
"And not to fear open expression of informed opinion."
As Dr Golombok stated, it is not surprising that ordinary Scots will be moved by images and repeated accounts of Palestinian suffering. Indeed, I'm sure there aren't many Jews in Scotland who don't have sympathy for the plight of those Palestinians simply and peacefully wanting to get on with their lives and have their situation greatly improved.
And Scottish Jews, generally, aren't afraid to reveal their identity.
There will always be antisemitism, but there will always be manifestations of hatred of just about every group in society in Scotland.
It is distressing to see so many motions against Israel in the Scottish Parliament, but there are MSPs willing to speak out against them.
We should remember that Scotland has historically shown more tolerance and been more welcoming to its Jewish population than many other countries.
Long may it continue.