Tuesday 13th September 2011
Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign: Media Release
COMMUNITY SERVICE FOR ISRAEL FLAG "RACISM" STUDENT – APPEAL UNDERWAY
A former St Andrews University student was sentenced to 150 hours community service today after his conviction at Cupar Sheriff Court last month for defacing an Israeli flag.
Paul Donnachie had argued that he had a legitimate right to criticise the state of Israel and its flag, but Sheriff Charles MacNair told him that, "The state of Israel is the land and its borders and the people in it... Saying that a state is terrorist says that everyone within the state is terrorist." In sentencing, MacNair also ordered £300 compensation payment to the complainer.
The conviction, which immediately led to Donnachie's expulsion from the university, was welcomed by Zionists including Paul Morron of the Jewish Chaplaincy, who said, "As far as I'm aware, this is the first time a Scottish court has ruled that because a Jewish person's identity is associated with Israel that criticism can, as in this case, constitute racialist aggravated behaviour."
Speaking after sentencing Paul Donnachie said, "My action towards the flag was distasteful, and for that I immediately apologised. However, it was not criminal and it certainly wasn't racist. The issue considered 'most abhorrent' by the sheriff, that I had said 'you are a terrorist' is the one thing I didn't do, and the one thing that wasn't corroborated by anyone. My legal team will be appealing immediately."
Leehee Rothschild, an Israeli activist with the organisation 'Boycott from Within', who attended the sentencing today, said, "not only is state oppression making it increasingly difficult to criticise and boycott Israel from within, this Scottish Sheriff is attempting to make it difficult to criticise Israel from Scotland."
The verdict has been condemned by pro-Palestinian groups, including Neturei Karta, an orthodox Jewish group formed in Palestine before Israel was established there, describing his conviction for racially aggravated conduct towards an American Jewish student as "ridiculous".
Neturei Karta's Rabbi Aaron Cohen said, "Zionism and Judaism are two opposite and incompatible concepts. Zionism with its aim of a state for the benefit of a specific group in someone else's land is by definition a sectarian and racist philosophy. For the Sheriff to mistakenly conflate Jewishness with being a 'member of Israel' is simply wrong, and this conviction is clearly ridiculous."
The sheriff has also faced criticism from a Scot's Jewish group whose members he refused to hear during the case. A statement from 'Scottish Jews for a Just Peace' said, "We are concerned that the Sheriff did not allow Jewish witnesses for the defence to be called to give evidence regarding the crucial distinction between Zionism – a political position of support for a Jewish state in Israel/Palestine – and Jewishness – a person's religion or ethnicity."
The statement continues, "It would appear that Paul Donnachie's protest was directed not against Chanan Reitblat as a Jew or indeed as a person, but against the political view that he espoused. We condemn the way that the Sheriff's decision confuses the legitimate right to criticise the State of Israel with racism, and conflates Jewishness with support for Israel."
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. In what appears to directly contradict the Cupar ruling, Sheriff James Scott ruled that their "comments were clearly directed at the State of Israel", that, "The Israeli state is not a 'person'", and that to limit criticism of a state would "render worthless their article 10(1) rights [freedom of expression]."
SPSC chair, Mick Napier said of the Cupar conviction, "Sheriff MacNair continued his vindictive course with the sentencing, which cannot possibly survive scrutiny in the appeal court. His tortured attempt to elicit hatred and racism from the evidence was rather strained."
[Fuller reports of the case here; and with more analysis here
SPSC statement here. ]
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 faced 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.
Paul Donnachie was found guilty of the first charge, while charges against Samuel Colchester were found to be not proven.
3. Boycott from Within is an organisation of Palestinians, Jews, citizens of Israel, supporting the Palestinian call for a BDS campaign against Israel from within Israel. For more information visit: http://boycottisrael.info
(Full title: Boycott- Supporting the Palestinian call for BDS from within)
4. Neturei Karta was formed in Palestine in 1938 but has roots tracing back to 1912. It was established "for the purpose of fighting Zionism", which it has continued to do even after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
It is also renowned for its annual ritual of burning the Israeli flag, both inside and outside Israel. To date, none of their members have been charged with racially aggravated conduct.
5. Scottish Jews for a Just Peace "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/ ; and includes their full "statement on the conviction of Paul Donnachie".
Sarah Glynn of SJJP can be contacted on: 07803 052239
6. Paul Morron of the Jewish Chaplaincy is quoted from the Jewish Telegraph,
Friday 26th August 2011, "Student is found guilty of racial abuse"
7. The SPSC has produced an open letter to "Defend the right to criticise Israel":
which condemns the "attempt by Scottish prosecutors yet again to conflate legitimate political criticism of the State of Israel with racism."
8. 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: