Open season seems to have been declared on people protesting about Palestine and Israeli action in Gaza.
In a case due to be heard in Edinburgh on Monday 29 March, five members of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) face trial on charges of racially aggravated conduct. The charges follow a protest on August 2008, where the five SPSC members disrupted a performance by the Jerusalem Quartet. The five initially faced charges of breach of the peace but these were dropped in March 2009 and charges of racially aggravated conduct were brought instead.
They are accused of making ‘comments about the State of Israel … evincing malice and ill will’ towards the musicians because of ‘their membership or presumed membership of an ethnic group’.
According to transcripts of the interruption at the concert the protesters said: ‘They’re Israeli Army musicians; Genocide in Gaza; End the Siege of Gaza. Boycott Israel; These musicians are representatives of the state of Israel. Daniel Barenboim refused to take part in Israel 60 celebrations; The Jerusalem Quartet celebrates ethnic cleansing; They’re sponsored by the state of Israel; Daniel Barenboim is an Israeli of conscience; we support all Israelis of conscience, but not if they celebrate ethnic cleansing. They’re killing people in Gaza; And you with your silence are killing people as well?; Israel is killing people, killing Palestinians every day; We should stand for human rights; we shouldn’t be silent. I’m ashamed of myself for supporting this; The music is beautiful but if what these people said is true, we should be ashamed of ourselves for supporting this.’ (Read a SPSC update on the case: ‘Was Boycotting Apartheid South Africa Anti-White?’)
Obviously laws which should be used to prosecute serious racially motivated crimes are now being (mis)used to prosecute those involved in legitimate political protest.
This is not the first time that people campaigning against Israeli state actions received inappropriate charges or severe punishment. In March 2009, two members of Swansea Action for Palestine were charged with ‘conspiring to commit racially aggravated criminal damage’ for painting the slogan ‘Boycott Israel’ on two boxes of Israeli peppers and on the floor of the Bridgend branch of Sainsbury. The charges were later dropped. (Read an IRR News story: ‘Pro-Palestinian campaigners arrested after racism allegation’.) In April 2009, Lancashire County Council suspended fourteen (Muslim) staff members for sending and receiving an email about the Israeli offensive in Gaza. They were originally accused of sending anti-Semitic emails but ultimately disciplined for misusing email accounts. In February 2010, a pro-Palestine protester was accused of making anti-Semitic remarks to Danny Ayalon, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister, at a talk at the Oxford Union. Avalon believed he had a moral duty to press charges against the protester as: ‘This demonstrates our new policy on hatred and racism and we will have zero tolerance for anti-Semitism, something that should have happened a long time ago.’ The student in question, later told the Independent that, he had in fact used the words of a classical Arab chant commemorating a seventh-century battle between Arabs and Jews. And earlier this month, at least twenty-two young Muslims, some on their first ever protest, were imprisoned after pleading guilty to charges of violent disorder arising from demonstrations about the Israeli invasion of Gaza. (Read an IRR News story: ‘Gaza Protesters Defence Campaign launched’.)
SPSC is asking campaigners to attend the Edinburgh Sheriff’s Court on Monday 29 March to support the five. The group points out that, ‘the charges are completely inappropriate and are clearly being brought in an effort to deter peaceful protest against Israel’. And goes on to say,’ a successful prosecution in this case would have significant implications for any organisation involved in advocacy for Palestinian human rights, or opposition to racism.’
Read an IRR News story: ‘Gaza Protesters Defence Campaign launched’
Read an IRR News story: ‘The criminalisation of protest’
Read an IRR News story: ‘Pro-Palestinian campaigners arrested after racism allegation’
Read a SPSC update on the case: ‘Charged with hunting unicorns and harassing Israeli “nationals”‘
Read a SPSC update on the case: ‘Was Boycotting Apartheid South Africa Anti-White?’
Read an article in the Independent: ‘Student says “‘slaughter the Jews” remark was misunderstood’