Kate and Wills univer­sity ex­pels stu­dent over Israel flag at­tack

Pales­tine Sol­i­dar­ity fails in at­tempt to make case about po­lit­i­cal protest

The Jewish Chronicle - - News - BY JC RE­PORTER

A ST An­drews Univer­sity stu­dent was ex­pelled this week af­ter be­ing con­victed of a racially ag­gra­vated at­tack on a 21-year-old Jewish ex­change stu­dent in the halls of res­i­dence in March this year.

His co-de­fen­dant, fac­ing an iden­ti­cal charge, was ac­quit­ted af­ter the case against him was found to be not proven, but he was nev­er­the­less sus­pended from St An­drews for a year.

It was a land­mark judg­ment in Scot­land af­ter Sher­iff Charles Mac­nair, hear­ing the case, made clear that he was sat­is­fied it had been a racially mo­ti­vated, rather than a po­lit­i­cal, at­tack.

Paul Don­nachie, 19, and Sa­muel Colch­ester, 20, were on trial at Cu­par Sher­iff Court in Fife, Scot­land, af­ter an evening of drink­ing de­gen­er­ated into a lewd at­tack on 21-year-old Chanan Reit­blat, a Lithua­nian-born Amer­i­can chem­istry stu­dent who was in Scot­land for a year as part of his de­gree at New York’s Yeshiva Univer­sity.

Dur­ing the at­tack, Don­nachie rubbed his gen­i­tals be­fore wip­ing his hands on an Is­raeli flag in the room. Mr Reit­blat, whose family had left Lithua­nia when he was a child to es­cape “se­vere Jewish op­pres­sion,” had pinned the flag, given to him by his brother who had served in the Is­raeli army, above his bed.

Don­nachie and Colch­ester had en­tered Mr Reit­blat’s room at 1.30 am on March 12. Af­ter the at­tack, when they jumped on the Jewish stu­dent and uri­nate­d­in­to­hissink,the­p­air­w­ere­pushed out of the room, but shouted in the cor­ri­dor that Israel was “a na­tion built on ter­ror­ism,” and “they are all sui­cide bombers.” Mr Reit­blat, they shouted, was “a Nazi, fas­cist and ter­ror­ist.”

In court, Don­nachie, a mem­ber of the univer­sity’s Pales­tine group, in­sisted: “Dis­re­spect­ing the flag is a time-hono u r e d method of ex­press­ing one’s dis­ap­proval with the ac­tions of a state.

“ T h i s was a po­lit­i­cal state­ment and not about one in­di­vid­ual. By dis­play­ing a flag of Israel you are mak­ing a con­tro­ver­sial state­ment which in­vites crit­i­cism.”

Don­nachie later ac­knowl­edged that he had posted Face­book com­ments, in­clud­ing one say­ing: “There is a Zion­ist in my hall.” In an­other Face­book mes­sage he wrote: “I got into sh*t for dis­re­spect­ing [an Is­raeli flag]. F**k them. Stand­ing my ground to the end on this one.”

MrReit­blat, who­came­back­fromNew York to give ev­i­dence, told the court that he had felt “ut­terly vi­o­lated,” and that the of­fence had left him ter­ri­fied. He had been so scared by the March events that he had “al­most failed” a cru­cial exam. “I have never been to Israel but am Jewish by de­scent and firmly be­lieve the Jews have a right to self-de­ter­mi­na­tion... and a home­land,” he said dur­ing ques­tion­ing. “I dis­played the flag of Israel in my room be­cause it is part of my iden­tity.”

Mr Reit­blat left St An­drews for Glas­gow im­me­di­ately af­ter the at­tack, tak­ing refuge in the home of the Jewish chap­lain, Rabbi Garry Way­land.

Find­ing Don­nachie guilty, Sher­iff Mac­nair said he was not in­ter­ested in any wider de­bate about “the Pales­tinian pop­u­la­tion in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This case is not about the right and wrongs of any ac­tions by the gov­ern­ment of Israel,” he said.

Sher­iff Mac­nair said he was sat­is­fied that Don­nachie’s ac­tions were racially mo­ti­vated, and that he had called Israel a ter­ror­ist state and called Mr Reit­blat him­self a ter­ror­ist.

“ I c on­sider that y o u d i s - p l a y e d m a l i c e to­ward Mr R e i t b l a t b e c a u s e of his pres u m e d mem­ber­ship [sic] of Israel,” he added. Dur­ing the case the sher­iff had re­fused to al­low “ex­pert wit­nesses,” in­clud­ing Mick Napier of the Scot­tish Pales­tine Sol­i­dar­ity Cam­paign (SPSC), to give ev­i­dence re­lat­ing to the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in Israel.

Sen­tenc­ing was de­ferred un­til Septem­ber 13 for re­ports.

Scot­tish Univer­sity Jewish Chap­laincy con­demned the role of the SPSC, which demon­strated out­side court through­out the case, fol­low­ing the at­tack. A spokesman said: “Their web­site cam­paign, pre­sent­ing and pur­port­ing to jus­tify the at­tack on Chanan Reit­blat on the grounds of le­git­i­mate free speech and po­lit­i­cal ex­pres­sion, is a gross er­ror of judg­ment which does not help the Pales­tinian cause. What free­dom of speech and po­lit­i­cal ex­pres­sion?

“By putting the Jewish stu­dent in such a state of fear and alarm that he felt the need to leave St An­drews, stay in Glas­gow with the Jewish chap­lain and re­turn to New York early?”

Af­ter the case, Don­nachie said he would ap­peal against his con­vic­tion, brand­ing it “ridicu­lous. The right to crit­i­cise Israel, or any state, is very im­por­tant. It is de­press­ing that some­body who has fought against racism is tar­nished in this way.”

He com­plained that his ex­pul­sion was “com­pletely dis­pro­por­tion­ate. Within an hour of the con­vic­tion I was told my univer­sity ca­reer is over.”

A St An­drews spokesman said: “The stu­dent com­mu­nity at St An­drews has a long tra­di­tion of tol­er­ance, re­spect and the right to free­dom of ex­pres­sion.

“How­ever, it is also a com­mu­nity which ab­hors racial in­tol­er­ance. While such be­hav­iour is ex­cep­tion­ally rare, the univer­sity will al­ways take the strong­est pos­si­ble sanc­tion against it.”

A Lon­don Jewish busi­ness­man’s yacht­ing team has won a tro­phy at the pres­ti­gious Fast­net off­shore sailing race. Richard Lof­tus, 68, a mem­ber of South Hamp­stead Sy­n­a­gogue, cap­tained a three-yacht team rep­re­sent­ing the Her­zliya Yacht Club. They won the Martin Hollingsworth tro­phy for the fastest three boats in the 300 boat fleet af­ter com­plet­ing the 600 mile race. Mr Lof­tus, who cel­e­brated with a kid­dush of her­ring and vodka, said: “It is an hon­our to win for Israel and Her­zliya in one of the most pres­ti­gious off­shore races. It’s nice to know it’s not only my family who think I’m a cap­tain.”

CEN­TRAL SCOT­LAND NEWS AGENCY

Sa­muel Colch­ester

Paul Don­nachie

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