The leader of the pro-Palestinian Scottish protest group that fought and won a landmark court case last week on anti-Semitism claims that attempts to silence free speech with accusations of racism are a sign that democracy is being eroded by the fear of “thought crime”.

Mick Napier, chairman of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said he believed the Crown realised the “folly” of pursuing a case against the organisation when a sheriff ruled that their protest during a recital of the Jerusalem String Quartet in Edinburgh was not anti-Semitic.

It was alleged that comments made by the group to the performers about the state of Israel had “evinced malice towards them based on their membership of an ethnic group or nationality”.

However, throwing out the charges, Sheriff James Scott said human rights legislation would be worthless if people on a public march designed to protest against a state or its army were afraid to name the state for fear of being charged with racially aggravated behaviour.

While welcoming the verdict, Mr Napier, 62, spoke of his fears that the right to carry out peaceful protests was now under threat, pointing to new strategies, supported by the UK Government, aimed at combating anti-Semitism.

He said: “The definition of anti-Semitism by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, which has been embodied into the London Declaration, has really influenced the idea of thought crime.

“The EUMC’s working definition makes it illegal and criminal to call for boycotts (which is our bread and butter) and to appeal for a non-Zionist state in all of historic Palestine. Attempts to criminalise non-violent, democratic action in support of the Palestine people is desperate.

“We must not close off all avenues of peaceful and democratic opposition to dreadful crimes.” Mr Napier added that the London Declaration was a “new attempt at thought crime which has the endorsement of Gordon Brown”.

However, the London Declaration, with its tough stance on anti-Semitism, is supported by many in the Jewish community for tackling what they see as a growing anti-Jewish sentiment in the UK.

Mr Napier said the verdict had set a powerful precedent, helping to mitigate fears that any legitimate criticism of the Israeli regime could result in a trial for anti-Semitism. He said: “Sheriff Scott closed that one off on Thursday when he made the clear distinction between opposition to a state, be it South Africa or Israel, and opposition to populations, be it white people or Jews.

“We are against state systems, not people, and I think Sheriff Scott made that crystal clear. It has been called a landmark ruling and we have already had responses from Palestinian refugee camps and lawyers in America.

“All our work boils down to trying to send a message to people in Palestine that they are not abandoned. Sheriff Scott satirised the situation, saying that we would have to march in the streets [protesting about] genocide in an unspecified Middle Eastern country.”

Mr Napier responded to criticism that a concert is not a fair target for protest as their actions infringed the rights of the audience. “When we protested against the all-white Springboks South African rugby team, we realised we were violating the rights of the rugby fans but we had no hesitation in doing what we did because we were trying to flag up a much greater crime,” said Mr Napier.

“We oppose the one without hesitation and regret the inconvenience to the other. The Jerusalem Quartet are, officially, distinguished Israeli Army musicians. They call themselves cultural ambassadors of the state of Israel, and it is in relation to their fronting for the state that we have no hesitation in confronting them.

“People have the right to enjoy music but Palestinians have a right to life and security and safety and not to be driven off their homes.”

Some members of the Jewish community in Scotland welcomed the ruling, including Scottish Jews for a Just Peace, who said it reinforced the right to criticise government. However, it prompted an angry response from others, including Myer Green, of the Scottish Friends of Israel, who said: “I would regard this as a technical judgment.”

11 Apr 2010

Read in conjunction with Edinburgh Sheriff's 'landmark ruling' counters London Declaration

See also> 2010 April 8th: “RACISM” CHARGE DROPPED AGAINST ISRAEL PROTESTORS The Herald - Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism, rules sheriff