By Stan Crooke
“Cupar Racism Verdict Hands Weapon to Zionists” proclaimed the headline in ‘Scottish Socialist Voice’ (SSV), paper of the Scottish Socialist Party. The verdict, brought by Cupar Sheriff Charles Macnair, claimed the article, “hands a major victory to the Zionist lobby.”
The two defendants in the case – the second defendant had a “not proven” verdict returned against him – were both drunk at the time of the incident at the centre of the case.
According to SSV, this drunkenness was exploited by the Zionist lobby: “What is clear is that given that [the two defendants] were both inebriated, their action presented an opportunity to the Zionist lobby which they duly grasped.”
In fact, the article continued, no-one should be led astray by the fact that the two defendants had been drunk: “Despite efforts to spin this case as a drunken escapade by hooligans, it actually forms part of the ongoing Zionist campaign to criminalise opponents of Israel.”
Chanan Reitblat, whose complaint had triggered the hearing, was defined in the article as “a hard-line Zionist” and “an ultra-Zionist”. According to the article: “There can be no doubt that he (Reitblat) is a willing instrument in the ongoing Zionist drive to marginalise Israeli policies of occupation, bombing and repression.”
(Presumably, the author meant to refer to an alleged Zionist drive to marginalise critics of Israeli policies. But the overall incoherence of the article makes it impossible to separate out the substantive incoherence from the incoherence arising out of typing mistakes.)
Scottish Jews for a Just Peace (SJJP) are also much troubled by the verdict. An SJJP statement explained: “It would appear that Paul Donnachie’s protest was directed not against Chanon Reitblat as a Jew or indeed as a person, but against the political view he espoused.”
According to a letter from Dundee-based SJJP member Sarah Glynn, published in Fife’s “The Courier” newspaper, the verdict had “moved us a step closer to an Orwellian police state.”
Following the sentencing of Donnachie, Glynn told Reitblat’s family that their actions were “scandalous” and that “as Jews, you should be ashamed. This is devastating.” Just for good measure, she also told a rabbi who had given support to Reitblatt that he was “destroying Judaism.”
The Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC), of course, was outraged by the verdict. How dare a Scottish court suggest that one of its members should be guilty of racially aggravated conduct!
“Same Old Song: US Supporter of Israeli Apartheid Dishonestly Claims to be Victim of Racism” reads the headline of one of the many articles on the SPSC website in defence of Donnachie. (Reitblat is an American who was studying in Scotland at the time of the incident which triggered the case.)
“Zionist Jew Reitblat,” explains another article on the SPSC website, is “a supporter of colonialism, ethnic cleansing and burning Palestinian civilians with white phosphorous.”
“This American citizen,” explains the SPSC, “suffers from the familiar ‘Israel syndrome’: simultaneously arrogant and prone to violence, whilst at the same time claiming to be terrified for his safety.”
Reitblat, the SPSC continues, was “almost certainly egged on by his Zionist comrades” to complain about the incident at the core of the case.
“What is behind the case?” asks an SPSC leaflet, helpfully providing the answer: “As pressure mounts on Israel … so Israel resorts to its last line of defence and claims criticisms of its actions are racist.”
The SPSC has praised its member’s defence speech in court, in which he argued that his actions were a political statement about Israel rather than an attack on Reitblat as an individual: “The citizens of a country cannot be held responsible for the actions of a state.”
And this from the campaign which advocates a boycott of anyone or anything associated with Israel – football players, academics, Starbucks, cricketers, oranges, film-makers, Lloyds Bank, scientists, dates, musicians, Eden Springs Water, trade unionists … etc., etc!!!
The court hearing which has given rise to such self-righteous indignation amongst Scotland’s ‘anti-Zionists’ heard conflicting evidence about the incident at the core of the case. There are also inconsistencies in media coverage of the case. But the basic events are not in dispute.
It is not disputed that Donnachie and another student turned up at Reitblat’s flat in a St. Andrews University hall of residence at half one in the morning of 12th March. Donnachie and his friend had been drinking heavily. They wanted to check up on Reitblat’s flatmate, who had also been drinking heavily and had gone to bed earlier.
(In the quaint language of the SPSC, Donnachie and his friend had “overindulged in ales” and went to check up of their third drinking companion, who had “retired earlier that evening, somewhat the worse for wear.”)
It is not disputed that on entering the flat Donnachie saw an Israeli flag pinned to the wall, a present to Reitblat from his brother, who had served in the Israel Defence Forces. Donnachie put his hand down his trousers, rubbed his genitals, and then either wiped his hand on the flag or rubbed the flag with one of his pubic hairs.
(This incident is dismissed by the SPSC as “a gesture apparently common among St. Andrews undergraduates.” Testifying in court, Donnachie blamed the flag for his behaviour: “By displaying a flag of Israel you are making a controversial statement which invites criticism.”)
It is likewise not disputed that Donnachie then said that Israel was a terrorist state and the flag was a terrorist flag.
(Or, as the SPSC puts it: “Donnachie saw the Israeli flag and, as many opponents of Israeli crimes would do, for a few pints had not broken his moral compass, pointed out that Israel is a terrorist state committing unspeakable crimes against Palestinian people.”)
It is further not disputed – although the SPSC makes no mention of it – that after the incident in Reitblat’s room Donnachie posted a number of Facebook comments.
Some of the comments were bog-standard ‘anti-imperialism’ (“Fuck the IDF” and “Victory to the Intifada”). But one was clearly directed at Reitblat as an individual: “There is a Zionist in my hall (of residence).”
Other aspects of what occurred are less clear.
According to one BBC report, for example, after leaving Reitblat’s flat Donnachie and his friend wandered the corridors of the hall of residence shouting “Nazi, fascist, terrorist.” But this is not mentioned in other coverage of the incident.
Crucially, there is also a dispute about whether Donnachie said to Reitblat, after having referred to Israel as a terrorist state and its flag as a terrorist flag, that he (Reitblat) was a terrorist. Reitblat said that Donnachie said this. Donnachie denied it.
The Sheriff found that Donnachie had called Reitblat a terrorist, and that he had done so because of Reitblat’s perceived “membership of Israel” i.e. Reitblat’s perceived identification with “terrorist” Israel was sufficient, in Donnachie’s head, to justify calling him a terrorist.
In the Sheriff’s words, Donnachie “displayed malice toward Mr. Reitblatt because of his presumed membership of Israel. … The part of your behaviour that I found to be most serious was that you described Mr. Reitblat as a terrorist. That is the direct equivalent of suggesting all Muslims are terrorists.”
The penalty imposed on Donnachie was 150 hours community service and a payment of £300 compensation to Reitblat.
While Reitblat was booed by SPSC members after the trial and had to be escorted to his family’s car by the police, Donnachie commented: “I understand that Mr. Reitblat is a very rich individual, and my concern is that this money I am being forced to pay will ultimately go to Zionist organisations.”
Alternatively, other reports quote him as having said: “Mr Reitblat was an American studying over here so he’s from a rich family – I hope he gives the compensation to a good cause and doesn’t just fund his own greed.”
According to Donnachie’s lawyer, his client is “extremely remorseful.”
Whatever the trial may say about Donnachie as an individual, and whatever his chances of success on appeal – when appeal judges will scrutinise whether there was an evidential basis for the Sheriff’s conclusions – the most striking political aspect to the trial is the response of Scotland’s ‘anti-Zionists’ fraternity.
There is no readiness by ‘anti-Zionists’ to acknowledge that Reitblat might have genuinely found the behaviour of Donnachie and his friend to be offensive – being drunk and disorderly in his flat at half one in the morning, abusing his personal property, urinating in his sink, and targeting him in a Facebook comment – and that this triggered his complaint.
Instead, Reitblat’s complaint is portrayed as one made in bad faith: Reitblat was “almost certainly egged on” by Zionists and was doubtlessly their “willing instrument”.
Rather than focus on Donnachie’s action – the subject-matter of the complaint – the ‘anti-Zionists’ turn their attention to Reitblat himself. He is “a hard-line Zionist” and “an ultra-Zionist”. He is “a US supporter of Israeli apartheid” who supports “colonialism, ethnic cleansing and burning Palestinians.”
In a particularly incoherent passage the SPSC even puts Reitblat, a 21-year-old student spending a semester at a Scottish university, on the same level as Bush, Blair and various other embodiments of evil incarnate:
“Against the likes of Bush, Blair, the pro-Buddhist junta in Burma, the Hindu chauvinist BJP in India, the brutal Saudi regime and its corrupt Ulema, and Zionist Jew Reitblat, we can do no better than commend the words of the courageous American, Father Berrigan … ….”
Reitblat is dismissed as a liar – “he dishonestly claims to be a victim of racism” – and his complaint is really part of a Zionist campaign to gag and criminalise their opponents:
“The legislation put in place to fight the scourge of racism continues to be abused in an attempt to stifle criticism of Israel and stifle its supporters. … Israel resorts to its last line of defence and claims criticisms of its actions are racist.”
Nor is there any acknowledgement by ‘anti-Zionists’ that identification with Israel formed part of Reitblat’s personal beliefs and identity as a Jew. (In a press release Reitblat wrote: “I am Jewish and had an Israeli flag on my bulletin board above my head. … Israel is an important part of my religious belief.”)
Instead, an SPSC statement claims that during the incident of 12th March, “no-one’s ‘Jewishness’ was remotely impugned.” (The inverted commas around Jewishness are in the original.)
A 2010 survey of British Jews found that over 70% self-defined as Zionist, and for over 80% Israel was important or central to their Jewish identity. But in the strange, and deeply unpleasant, political universe inhabited by the SPSC, it is the likes of the SPSC, not Jews, who determine what constitutes Jewishness (or ‘Jewishness’).
Suppose, for a moment, that a Black person complained of abuse and that there was at least a perceived racist element to that abuse.
Would anti-racists, as Donnachie and his friends in the SPSC believe themselves to be, instinctively respond by claiming that the Black person was really a tool of other Black people and had raised the complaint in order to stifle criticism of the alleged crimes of those other Black people?
Would anti-racists attacks the politics of the Black complainant – as if some kind of political purity test has to be passed before a person can complain about racism – and insist that they, not Black people, should define what it means to be Black?
Just asking such questions is to answer them.
But, as the ‘anti-Zionist’ indignation at the verdict passed on one of their number demonstrates, other factors come into play when the complainant is a Jew.
NB To appreciate the wittiness of the headline, readers should be aware of Hugh McDiarmid’s epic poem “A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle”.