'Anti-racist' anti-Zionism and the law

24 Aug 2011 by CST

Paul Donnachie, a student at St. Andrews University in Scotland, has been expelled from the university after being found guilty of racially abusing a Jewish student. Donnachie had defaced (in an obscene manner) an Israeli flag on the wall of Chanan Reitblat's bedroom, and called Reitblat a terrorist.

The trial and conviction are welcome, because Jewish students, like all students, must be able to express their beliefs free from the fear of intimidation or threats. In this case, the court clearly decided that Donnachie's actions transgressed the boundaries of legitimate expression, and crossed over into criminality. The case against another student who stood trial alongside Donnachie was found to be not proven.

According to this report, Donnachie is a member of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC); an organisation which, to say the least, does not do enough to distance itself from antisemitic images, sources and language in its anti-Israel propaganda. There is no suggestion that SPSC was party to Donnachie's abuse of Reitblat, which appeared to be spontaneous and alcohol-fuelled, but SPSC members did support him in court.

Donnachie was reported as saying, after the verdict:

This is a ridiculous conviction. I'm a member of anti-racism campaigns, and I am devastated that as someone who has fought against racism I have been tarnished in this way.

This is typical of an attitude on the anti-Zionist left, that because they define themselves as anti-racist, and they see their anti-Zionism as an expression of their anti-racism, they cannot possibly act in a racist manner. Yet they fail to observe that the laws against racism - laws which the left campaigned for and welcomed, to protect vulnerable minorities against racism - include nationality and citizenship as markers of racial groups. Donnachie was charged under section 50A of the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995, which clearly states:

“racial group” means a group of persons defined by reference to race, colour, nationality (including citizenship) or ethnic or national origins

Sheriff Charlie Macnair, who heard the case, made it clear that Donnachie broke the law specifically because of his anti-Israel abuse:

He said: "This flag was his personal property. I consider that your behaviour did evince malice towards Mr Reitblat because of his presumed membership of Israel.

"I'm satisfied that you said Israel was a terrorist state and the flag was a terrorist symbol and I also hold that you said that Mr Reitblat was a terrorist."

This does not make Donnachie an antisemite - but it does mean that he has been found to have acted in a racist manner, under exactly the same law that would be used for antisemitic abuse. It also means that the law can protect Israelis, as Israelis, from harassment, abuse and threats, just as much as it protects Jews.

It is perfectly possible to campaign against Israel, and for the Palestinians, without acting in a criminally racist manner towards Israelis (or people who are presumed to be Israeli). A genuinely anti-racist person or organisation, which Donnachie and SPSC clearly believe themselves to be, would take note of this case and rethink their language and actions. So far, they show no signs of doing so.

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Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis
Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth