CST Blog

St. Andrews student racism case - SCoJeC report

30 August 2011

The Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (SC0JeC) has published a report on the St. Andrews University case, in which one student, Paul Donnachie, was convicted of racially aggravated harassment of a Jewish student, Chanan Reitblat. The SCoJeC report is worth reading in full. It succinctly summarises the evidence presented in the case:

In the early hours of 12th March this year, his room-mate was brought back to the room drunk and unconscious.  Later, two other students, Paul Donnachie and Samuel Colchester, came to check on him. Although they had been in the room several times, and had never previously commented on the flag, as the court heard in evidence, Donnachie then launched into a tirade of expletives about Israel, and calling Chanan a ‘terrorist’, wiped his hand on his genitals and then onto what he called a ‘terrorist flag’, and then went out into the hallway in the halls of residence shouting about Israel being ‘terrorists, an illegitimate state, and Nazis’, disturbing other students. The court also heard that Colchester jumped on Chanan in his bed, and urinated around the room, including on his toothbrush.  The following day, Donnachie posted messages on Facebook, and delivered a note to Chanan, saying that he did not regret his actions.

Donnachie did not dispute any of these events, but tried to contend that showing ‘disrespect toward the flag is a time-honoured way of making a political protest’.  In his defence, his lawyer attempted to call three people as ‘expert witnesses’ to try to give evidence about the difference between Judaism and Zionism.  However, the Sheriff held that that was irrelevant to the case, and refused to hear them.

There has been some confusion over the basis of the verdict of racially aggravated harassment, with Donnachie's supporters arguing that his action was not antisemitic. In fact, as SCoJeC explains, antisemitism has nothing to do with the case; rather, this was an example of racism directed towards Israelis as a national group:

In finding him guilty, the Sheriff stated that the case against Donnachie was not about antisemitism or about the rights and wrongs of the Israel/Palestine conflict.  It was only about whether his actions had caused 'distress or alarm' to Chanan and had been motivated by his 'membership, perceived membership, or association with, members of a racial group'.  ‘Racial group’ is defined by section 50a of the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995 as “a group of persons defined by reference to race, colour, nationality (including citizenship), or ethnic or national origins”.  The Sheriff ruled that there was clear corroborated evidence that Donnachie’s actions had caused alarm and distress, and that he had acted in this way because of Chanan’s identification with Israel.  His crime was therefore quite clearly racially aggravated under the definition in Scots law.

This is the same point we made on the CST Blog last week. Donnachie's behaviour can be reasonably understood to have caused "alarm and distress" to Reitblat. Sadly, there is no evidence yet that any pro-Palestinian activists in this country recognise the central message of the St. Andrews case: that the language and behaviour they direct towards Israelis and their supporters have to respect the same legal limits as all other forms of public advocacy.

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