Embargo: Friday Aug 19th 2011.
Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign: Media Release
JEWISH GROUP DEFENDS ISRAEL CRITICS
A leading member of a Jewish pressure group is set to defend two students facing racially aggravated conduct charges after allegedly making comments and gestures critical of Israel and its flag.
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."
Elkind, a former president of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, will give evidence in defence of the two St Andrews University students at Cupar Sheriff Court during their two-day trial which begins on Monday.
A statement on her group's website says, "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."
Samuel Colchester (20) and Paul Donnachie (18) both deny the charge, which Donnachie considers an infringement of his freedom of political expression. They are alleged to have 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 fellow student, Chanan Reitblat, A Lithuanian-born Jewish man who now works in the United States.
Media reports had indicated that the pair were accused of anti-Semitism, but Reitblat recently acknowledged that their disagreement had centred on Israel: "never did I once accuse him [Donnachie] of anti-Semitism – either in person or in the media. This is a clear case of one student attacking another for his political beliefs and national affiliations".
Last year, similar charges were thrown out of an Edinburgh court after five members of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) disrupted 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".
SPSC chair Mick Napier said: "That the Cupar Procurator Fiscal considers it racist to criticise Israel indicates a level of confusion that was confirmed when he referred to the Israeli Army as the 'Jewish Army' during an earlier court diet. It is also concerning that he knew of the Edinburgh case, but said he wasn't aware of Sheriff Scott's ruling that preventing criticism of Israel would render worthless our right of free speech."
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.
3. The trial takes place at Cupar Sheriff Court on Monday 22nd and Tuesday 23rd August at 10am.
Cupar Sheriff Court
St Catherine Street
Map and directions: http://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/locations/index.asp?crt=cpr&val=contact
4. 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."
Their website can be found here: http://blog.sjjp.org.uk/
5. Chanan Reitblat is quoted from his response to an SPSC open letter in defence of the "right to criticise Israel" (see Note 6).
He writes: "never did I once accuse him [Donnachie] of anti-Semitism – either in person or in the media. This is a clear case of one student attacking another for his political beliefs and national affiliations".
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: