Opinion: How not to further the Palestinian cause

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/

Read more by or more about , , or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Sadie Smith 2nd Sep '11 - 3:30pm

    Whatever you think of Israel and Palestine, this is unbelievably dreadful. I am horrified.
    Taking some form of positive line is always more valuable.
    University seems to have taken fairly robust line.
    Is there an evidential problem?

  • Kirsten de Keyser 2nd Sep '11 - 6:27pm

    I’m not quite sure what you mean by ‘hysterical’ – a loaded term which generally imbues its user with a degree of … hysteria.

    One thing is however certain, “dispassionate debate” has so far proved to be a particularly useless instrument in this debate so is it any wonder that frustrations tend to rise to the top?

    In any event, we have no idea whether Reitblat had provoked Donnachie in some way or whatever the backstory might have been, so who are we to judge?

  • Alex Macfie 2nd Sep '11 - 9:02pm

    @Kirsten: There is no suggestion of any provocation by Mr Reitblat, and surely it would have come up in the court case if there had been. and even if there were, I cannot see any justification for such a puerile, spiteful, immature attack on a person in his private quarters. I find it shocking that anyone would seek to defend it as a legitimate political act.

  • Alex Macfie 2nd Sep '11 - 9:39pm

    SMcG: In this case, the Israeli flag was the victim’s personal property. Also the incident also took place in his bedroom. Both these facts mean there is no way the act could be construed as a legitimate political protest, like burning a national flag (which presumably you have bought yourself for the purpose) in a public place would be. (And nor could Mr Donnachie’s lewd behaviour towards an individual ever be considered legitimate political protest.)

  • Kirsten de Keyser 3rd Sep '11 - 1:46pm

    Unfortunately it is often the case that people who live in the region and are directly affected by the conflict get shot at, if they start shouting.

    Hence the need for supporters who live in Britain and other territories to keep up the shouting.

  • ‘Liberals all agreed with the AAM, but unfortunately it was a snake-pit of Trots and prone to extremism’ – hmm never thought of Peter Hain as a Trot – your comment is somewhat of an exaggeration – there might have been a few ‘Trots’ in the AAM but you can find a few extremists in all organisations.

  • Kirsten de Keyser 4th Sep '11 - 4:09pm

    funny that, I never thought of Ethel de Keyser as a Trot either…

  • When will Israel pull down their dreadful racist wall of segregation – for years the Israelis have treated the Palestinians as third class, not even citizens, of a country that they stole from them in 1947. The parallel is with the Communist Berlin Wall and and the Nazi treatment of the Jews by keeping them walled up in a ghetto; this is what Israel is doing to the Palestinians.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • User AvatarTom Harney 11th Aug - 2:17pm
    I thin that Ben’s paper is very useful and agree with his approach. I also agree with the comments by Andrew. However here is my...
  • User AvatarFormer Dem 11th Aug - 1:29pm
    Alex Macfie David Raw I agree with both of you to some extent. The LDs were complete suckers in sharing government ministries with the Tories...
  • User AvatarCatherine Jane Crosland 11th Aug - 1:20pm
    David Raw, thank you for your replies. You say that you object to the idea that the "Times Rich List" would receive Universal Basic Income....
  • User AvatarBarry Lofty 11th Aug - 1:08pm
    David: I am sure we could argue, discuss all that went on inside that coalition but I took it rather more personally at the time...
  • User AvatarDavid Evershed 11th Aug - 12:59pm
    Whilst we Lib Dems consider the Conservative government an enemy, because they hold different views to us, we depart from liberal principles. Liberals should respect...
  • User AvatarAndrew Toye 11th Aug - 12:55pm
    I agree that wellbeing should be a priority, but it’s one of those things that are difficult to measure or plan for. David Cameron introduced...