Monday Aug 22nd 2011; NO EMBARGO
Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign: Media Release
UPDATE (1500hrs) ON CUPAR “RACISM” TRIAL – COMPLAINER: ISRAEL CRITICISM RACIST BECAUSE “YOU CANNOT SEPARATE ISRAEL FROM JEWISHNESS.” TRIAL ONGOING.
A former St Andrews University student who accused two fellow students of racism after they allegedly made comments and gestures critical of the State of Israel and its flag told the trial at Cupar Sheriff Court today that, “You cannot separate Israel from Jewishness.”
Chanan Reitblat, a Lithuanian-born Jewish man who recently left St Andrews to take up a job offer in the United States, was giving evidence in the first day of the trial against Samuel Colchester (20) and Paul Donnachie (18), who both deny charges of racially aggravated conduct in relation to allegations they rubbed their hands on an Israeli flag after putting their hands down their trousers. They also deny an alternative charge of acting in a threatening or abusive manner toward former Facebook friend, Reitblat.
When asked by Procurator Fiscal Brian Robertson “do you see yourself as affiliated to Israel?”, Reitblat replied, “Of course. Israel is a Jewish state… You cannot separate Israel from Jewishness… Israel is a state I feel affiliated to by religion.”
Explaining that although neither he nor his family had ever been to Israel, he believed “Israel is a land for Jews… The Jewish people have a right to self-determination. That is part of my religious belief.”
Reitblat, who had invited the accused into his student dorm, alleges that when they saw his Israeli flag on the wall, “They said Israel is a terrorist state. That flag is a terrorist symbol. They said that I am a terrorist.”
Reitblat was due to be cross-examined by Donnachie’s defence solicitor as this goes to press, and will continue tomorrow.
An application to delay the trial to allow a legal debate over the competency of the racially aggravated conduct charge in relation to criticism of a state was rejected by the Court of Appeal yesterday after it emerged that the Cupar court had funded Reitblat’s return flight from the US for today’s trial. It is thought likely that the competency debate may be determined after the trial should a guilty verdict be reached.
Last year, similar charges were thrown out before trial after a diet of debate at Edinburgh Sheriff Court relating to the disruption by five members of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) of a concert by Israeli Army musicians, the Jerusalem Quartet. Sheriff James Scott ruled that their “comments were clearly directed at the State of Israel, the Israeli Army, and Israeli Army musicians”.
The Edinburgh Sheriff expressed concern that to continue with the prosecution would have implications for freedom of expression more generally: “if persons on a public march designed to protest against and publicise alleged crimes committed by a state and its army are afraid to name that state for fear of being charged with racially aggravated behaviour, it would render worthless their Article 10(1) rights. Presumably their placards would have to read, ‘Genocide in an unspecified state in the Middle East’; ‘Boycott an unspecified state in the Middle East’ etc.”
A leading member of a Jewish pressure group poised to give evidence in defence of the two students was hopeful that the racism charge would be dropped. Liz Elkind of Scottish Jews for a Just Peace said that “criticism of Israel is both legitimate and necessary, and the Crown’s repeated attempts to conflate anti-Israel views with anti-Semitism is dangerous to all Jews.”
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 throughout Scotland, and members and supporters from Scotland and elsewhere.
For further information, contact:
SPSC Chair, Mick Napier: 0131 620 0052; 07958002591
2. Samuel Colchester and Paul Donnachie face two alternative charges:
racially aggravated conduct, contrary to the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995 Section 50A (1)(b) and 5;
behaving in a threatening or abusive manner, contrary to Section 38 (1) of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010.
3a. The trial began today (Monday 22 Aug 2011) at Cupar Sheriff Court and is scheduled to last two days.
It will resume tomorrow at 10am.
Cupar Sheriff Court
St Catherine Street
Map and directions: http://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/locations/index.asp?crt=cpr&val=contact
4. Donnachie’s Solicitor had lodged a Bill of Application to the Court of Appeal over Sheriff Charles MacNairn’s refusal to receive a devolution minute during the August 4th 2011 intermediate diet.
5. Liz Elkind is a leading member of Scottish Jews for a Just Peace whose website states:
“We are a group of Jews, with supporters in all parts of Scotland, who are opposed to Israeli policies that undermine the livelihoods, human, civil and political rights of the Palestinian people and the ethical and political welfare of the Jewish people.
“We want Jewish opinions critical of Israeli policy to be heard in Scotland, and for the Scottish Jewish community to realise that protest against Israeli policies is real and growing within the community.”
Their website can be found here: http://blog.sjjp.org.uk/
6. The SPSC has produced an open letter to “Defend the right to criticise Israel”:
which condemns not the complainer, Chanan Reitblat, but the “attempt by Scottish prosecutors yet again to conflate legitimate political criticism of the State of Israel with racism.”
The open letter also highlights that media reporting has “jumped to the conclusion that the charges are designed to imply”, Including:
Tayside and Fife's Courier, 1st April 2011:
“St Andrews University students in court to face anti-Semitism charges --
Two St Andrews University students have appeared in court following allegations they indulged in anti-semitic behaviour.”
The Jewish Chronicle’s May 12 2011 report, “Students' trial is delayed” is listed under their “Antisemitism” category: http://www.thejc.com/news/topics/antisemitism (currently on page 4).
7. Similar charges of racially aggravated conduct were alleged against five members of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign after their Aug 2008 disruption of a concert by the Jerusalem Quartet in Edinburgh.
After an 20-month legal process, on April 8th 2010, Sheriff James Scott dismissed the charges. See the Sheriff’s ruling: http://www.scottishpsc.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3286&catid=332:trial&Itemid=200248
After the trial, the Herald’s front page reported, “Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism, rules sheriff”
The Herald, April 9th 2010:
An SPSC media release on the ruling can be found here:
The BBC reported, “Israel protest at concert 'was not racist'”
BBC News, 8th April 2010:
More media reports here: