The other day at a London Underground station, I saw a man who was visibly distressed. A 50-something Asian gentleman in a suit, he’d been waiting for his wife when a man asked him to move out of the way on a narrow path. Except he hadn’t just asked him to move – he’d abused him racially and pushed against him.
I could see that he was upset, so I stopped and he told me what had happened. Imagine, however, if, instead of expressing sympathy, I had told him that he was in the wrong for having been in someone’s way on the path. Imagine, indeed, if I had adopted the other guy’s case as one to champion in the wider cause of keeping paths clear. If I did that, you would think that I had grotesquely lost all sense of proportion and that (however great the need to keep paths clear) this was an utterly bizarre case for me to be championing. You would consider my behaviour to be both shameful and wrong.
Consider, then, the case of Chanan Reitblat, a Jewish American student who left St Andrews University after two inebriated fellow students came into his bedroom in the middle of the night, urinated in his sink and “jumped on” him (I dread to think what the latter actually means). Mr Reitblat (who is not Israeli and has never been to Israel) had on his bedroom wall an Israeli flag. During the incident just described, one of these two men extracted a pubic hair from himself and rubbed it on Mr Reitblat’s flag; the two men were heard to shout, among other things, that Mr Reitblat was “a Nazi, fascist and terrorist”.
One of these two students, Andrew Donnachie, has been found guilty of what the BBC calls “a racist breach of the peace” (he reportedly plans to appeal) and his university has expelled him. After the trial, Mr Reitblat was booed in court – not the person who had been just been found guilty, but the victim. The case against the other student (who has been suspended from the university for a year) was “not proven”. In his defence, Mr Donnachie told the court:
This was a political statement and not about one individual. By displaying a flag of Israel you are making a controversial statement which invites criticism.
So Mr Donnachie’s behaviour was, apparently, nothing more than an act of “criticism” of Israel. As if behaviour of that sort can count as rational criticism of anything. I am angry about China’s occupation of Tibet, but if I acted similarly in the bedroom of a student with a Chinese flag on his wall, would anyone see it as a legitimate act of criticism of China?
It therefore beggars belief that the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) has, shamefully, leapt to the defence of Mr Donnachie, saying:
We call on supporters of Palestinian rights, anti-racists, and supporters of free speech to…support Paul Donnachie.
I am appalled that a major pro-Palestinian organisation imagines that Mr Donnachie’s behaviour deserves to be championed or does anything for the Palestinian cause. I am confident that those Liberal Democrats who most campaign for the rights of the Palestinians will have little truck with the SPSC and its defence of the indefensible. This is another reminder of why the SPSC deserves no support from pro-Palestinian Liberal Democrats.
Matthew Harris was the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate for Hendon at the General Election of 2010. He blogs at http://matthewfharris.blogspot.com/