Jerusalem municipal workers putting up an Israeli flag.
Israeli flag Photo by Shiran Granot
Text size

Pro-Palestinian activists are planning to take a year-long legal battle which has brought into question the connection between anti-Israel protest and anti-Semitism to the European Court of Human Rights. The Scottish High Court refused to take into account the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories when upholding on Tuesday a previous ruling that an attack on a Jewish student's room last year was racially-motivated.

The appeal was over the case of an American exchange student from Yeshiva University, Chanan Reitblat, who was studying for one term at St Andrews University in eastern Scotland. Last March, two fellow students entered Reitblat's room to visit a friend of theirs who had shared the room and passed out drunk. They noticed a large flag of Israel that Reitblat had on his wall, and one of them, opened his trouser, rubbed his hands over his genitals and then rubbed them over the flag. Reitblat claimed that they had called him a terrorist and one of them urinated in the sink.

For all the latest updates follow Haaretz on Facebook and Tumblr

Five months later, a local Sheriff's Court convicted one of the students, Paul Donnachie, of a racist "breach of the peace" and sentenced him to a 300 pound fine and 150 hours of community service. Following the sentence, St Andrews expelled Donnachie from the university. But Donnachie did not accept the Sheriff's ruling saying, "This is a ridiculous conviction. I'm a member of anti-racism campaigns, and I am devastated that as someone who was fought against racism I have been tarnished in this way." Scottish pro-Palestinian activists who attended the case booed Reitblat as he left the court.

Supported by the local Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) of which he is a member, Donnachie appealed to the Scottish High Court of Criminal Appeal, claiming that while his behavior towards Reitblat was personally unacceptable, his conduct had not been racist or anti-Semitic, but rather a legitimate political protest against Israeli policies. They claimed that there had been a miscarriage of justice when the Sheriff refused to hear in court SPSC members on the conditions in Israel and the Occupied Territories. On Tuesday, the three judges of the High Court in Edinburgh refused to overturn the verdict and sentence, ruling there had been no miscarriage of justice.

The ruling has been hailed by Jewish organizations in Britain. Nicola Livingston, chairman of Scottish University Jewish Chaplaincy, said that “The Jewish Community and Jewish Student Community welcome today’s definitive court ruling that abusing a Jewish student due to his identification with Israel is criminal and racialist in nature. Interest in or identification with Israel and support for its legitimate welfare and right to exist is an integral part of Jewish identity of the mainstream Jewish community.” She noted that there has been an increase of attacks on Jewish students "motivated by anti-Israel sentiment" in Scotland over the last three years.

Register now for Haaretz's new iPad app

The head of Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Mick Napier, said following the High Court ruling that "we will continue to pursue this case through every possible legal avenue, including the European Court of Human Rights. The initial conviction was absurd, all the hostilities by Donnachie were against Israeli state symbol."

Napier insisted there was nothing anti-Semitic about the attack. "We have a record of not tolerating any species of racism and anti-Semitism" he said. "We work very hard to distinguish between them and it is our opponents who seek to conflate the two issues. A national flag is a political symbol and an Israeli flag is provocation to people who see it as a symbol of a terrorist state."

The Israeli Embassy in London said following the ruling that "it means that a man who rubs his genitals and waves them around cannot be considered taking part in political protest. It is doubtful that the Palestine Solidarity Campaign can conform to this new level of political discourse."