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Friday, 26 August 2011

How not to pick your battles

I was horrified to hear about an American Muslim student at a Scottish university who, while not himself Pakistani, had a Pakistani flag in his room, and who was the victim of an incident that has been much-reported this week. Two drunk students entered the Muslim student's room in the middle of the night, urinated in his sink and "jumped on" him (whatever that means - it sounds awful), before one of them extracted a pubic hair from himself and rubbed it on the Pakistani flag. A court has heard that the two students shouted that the Muslim student was "a Nazi, fascist and terrorist." Except that it wasn't a Muslim student and it wasn't a Pakistani flag. It was a Jewish student and it was an Israeli flag. The student concerned (who is not Israeli and has never been to Israel) left the university immediately after the incident, as would I, had two drunk men come into my room in the middle of the night, "jumped on" me and urinated in my sink. And now some people are trying to say that this behaviour was a legitimate expression of criticism of the State of Israel, a sentiment so grotesque as to beggar belief.

A student (Paul Donnachie) has been found guilty of what the BBC calls "a racist breach of the peace" (he apparently intends to appeal). The victim, Chanan Reitblat, and his family were booed in court - not the person found guilty, but the victim. Extraordinarily, the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) has adopted this as a "free speech" issue, saying: "We call on supporters of Palestinian rights, anti-racists, and supporters of free speech Paul Donnachie." Has the world gone mad? What has Mr Donnachie's behaviour possibly got to do with any sensible campaign for the rights of the Palestinians? The SPSC is yet again demonstrating why it does not deserve the support of pro-Palestinian Liberal Democrats. It must be possible for someone to be pro-Palestinian (and, yes, anti-Israel) without campaigning to defend the sort of behaviour of which Mr Donnachie has been found guilty.

I agree with the Scottish University Jewish Chaplaincy, whose spokesman said of the SPSC: 
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?

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