Thursday, April 8, 2010

BDS Legal Victory: Race harassment case against 5 Scottish Palestine solidarity activists thrown out of court

Dear friends,
the wonderful news has just come through that the case against the five Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) activists charged over their protest at a Jerusalem Quartet concert in 2008 have been cleared of all charges.

In an attempt to stop the BDS campaign, supporters of Israel have sought to intimidate Palestine solidarity activists through legal intimidation and abuse of anti-racism lawas. As Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of the BDS campaign notes, "This legal threat grew out of the lobby's desperation and repeated failures to stem the growth of BDS on the battlefield of logical, moral and political argumentation. Only bullying was left. And even that seems to be wearing thin, too!"

This is a substantial victory for the BDS movement and it is expected that it will have significant repercussions in relation to attempts by supports of Israel to try and criminalise legitimate protest and opposition to Israel's apartheid policies.

I have included, in addition to the article from the Edinburgh News regarding the case being thrown out, the initial report on the charges against the activists, as well as a statement issued by the five activists at the time of the charges being laid.

In solidarity,

Palestine group's race harassment case thrown out of court

Published Date: 08 April 2010

CHARGES of racially aggravated conduct against five members of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign have been thrown out by a Sheriff.

Around 60 of their supporters burst into applause when Sheriff James Scott delivered his judgement at Edinburgh Sheriff Court today.

Michael Napier, 63; Sofia Macleod, 39; Vanesa Fuertes, 35; Kevin Connor, 40; and Neil Forbes, 55, all of Edinburgh, were charged with having pursued a racially aggravated course of conduct which amounted to harassment of members of the Jerusalem String Quarter as they performed at the International Festival on 29 August, 2008, at Queen's Hall in Edinburgh.

It was alleged that, while acting together, on five separate occasions, they shouted at the players, made comments about the State of Israel which evinced malice towards them based on their membership or supposed membership of an ethnic group or nationality, disrupted the concert and struggled with security and other staff. Two alternative charges accused them of acting in a racially aggravated manner, causing or intending to cause the members of the quartet alarm and distress.

The case had been continued without plea on a number of occasions.

Mick Napier, one of the five Scottish PSC activists charged.

During legal debate earlier this year, counsel for the accused challenged the relevancy of the charges and claimed that under the European Convention of Human Rights the prosecution represented an unnecessary, illegitimate and disproportionate interference with their freedom of expression, speech and peaceful political protest. The Crown held that the charges were relevant and that the accused's rights under the Convention were "not unfettered" as the rights of one person might impinge of the rights of another.

It was alleged that during the concert there were shouts of "They are Israeli Army musicians", "Genocide in Gaza", "End Genocide in Gaza" and "Boycott Israel".

Sheriff Scott said it was clear the accused were engaged in political protest against the Israeli State and an organ of that state, the Israeli Army, concerning crimes allegedly committed by the Israeli State and its army in Gaza. The Crown, he said, claimed the accused were acting in concert on five separate occasions. He was unable, he said, to infer the five had been acting in concert and held that the disruptions had been carried out by the five individually in just under an hour during the same performance. Continuation of the prosecution was therefore not proportionate.

The Sheriff also stated that the protesters comments had been clearly directed at the State of Israel and Israeli Army. The State of Israel was not a person and the members of the quartet were not targeted as presumed citizens of Israel, but as presumed members of the Israeli Army. "It seemed to me," he said "that the procurator fiscal's attempts to squeeze malice and ill will were rather strained".

Sofia McLeod, one of the five Scottish PSC activist charged.

Sheriff Scott added that if persons on a public march designed to protest against and publicise alleged crimes committed by a state and its army were afraid to name that state for fear of being charged with racially aggravated behaviour it would render their rights under the Convention worthless. Their placards, he said, would have to read "Genocide in an unspecified part of the Middle East", "Boycott an unspecified state in the Middle East".

He said that the prosecution in its present form was unnecessary and, having concluded it was not necessary or proportionate and therefore incompetent it had to be dismissed. He discharged the complaint simpliciter.

Fiscal Depute, Graham Fraser announced that The Crown would be appealing the decision.


Activists outside of Sheriff's court

Scottish Palestine campaigners fight charges of “racial motivation"
Tuesday, 14 April 2009 17:27

Five Palestine supporters arrested last year for disrupting a concert by an Israeli group are due to appear at Edinburgh Sheriff Court on Friday.

The campaigners, all members of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC), stood up during the Aug 29th Edinburgh Festival performance of the Jerusalem Quartet and made statements including “End the Siege of Gaza—Boycott Israel!”

The campaigners were originally charged with Breach of the Peace, and had been due to be tried on March 9th. However, at an Intermediate Diet one week before the trial, the Procurator Fiscal made a motion to desert that case and bring forward new charges that their Israeli boycott protest was “racially motivated”.

Sofia MacLeod, SPSC Secretary, and one of the five accused said,

“Given the absurd nature of a charge clearly designed to criminalise the growing campaign to boycott Apartheid Israel until it respects Palestinian human rights, rather than oppose the new charges, we welcomed the opportunity to highlight that to boycott Israel is the opposite of racist.”

Scottish Palestine solidarity activists

Late last year, the UN General Assembly President, Miguel d’escoto Brockmann, was condemned by pro-Israel groups when he described Israel as “apartheid” and recommended that the UN follow “the lead of a new generation of civil society, who are calling for a similar non-violent campaign [to that used against Apartheid South Africa] of boycott, divestment and sanctions to pressure Israel to end its violations.”

Campaign chair and fellow accused, Mick Napier, said, “The International Court of Justice advised in 2004 that signatories to the Geneva Conventions (including the UK) have an obligation to act to ensure that Israel dismantles its illegal settlements and the Apartheid separation wall that steals yet more Palestinian land.

“With the complete failure by the UK and other governments to fulfill those obligations, Israel feels able to break international law with impunity. The devastating result is what we saw in Gaza earlier this year with a death toll in excess of 1300, including 300 children. If our government won’t act to uphold international law, the responsibility falls on ordinary citizens through our power of protest and boycott.”

No Jerusalem Quartet flyer

Local Jewish writer and journalist, and honorary president of the SPSC, Marion Woolfson, described the latest charges against her fellow campaigners as “ridiculous”.

“It would have been absurd to label Peter Hain and Desmond Tutu etc as racist for pushing the successful boycott of Apartheid South Africa; clearly they were anti-racist. Those who use boycott to pressure Israel are similarly anti-racist.”

Before the concert, Woolfson had called on Edinburgh Festival organisers to rescind the invitation to the Israeli musicians. In a letter to the Queen’s Hall venue, she wrote, “I simply cannot understand why you should have invited the representatives of a country that practices ethnic cleansing and a form of apartheid which even those who have lived in South Africa have said is worse than anything thought up by the former rulers of their country.”

However, Israeli Ambassador to the UK, Ron Prosor condemned the action of the Scottish pro-Palestine group, telling the Jewish Chronicle “We must not give in to the attempts to sabotage the marketing of Israeli art and culture in Britain.”


Appeal for support by activists on trial for 'racism'!

An arrest warrant was issued at Friday's court hearing against Sofiah MacLeod, Scottish PSC Secretary currently in Palestine witnessing Israel's racist dispossesion of Palestinians. Sofiah will bring her recent experiences of Israeli state-driven racism when she goes on trial accused of 'racism'. Three of the other four accused will similarly produce evidence from first-hand experience of Israel's programme of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

On trial for ‘racially aggravated conduct’ are five Scots who responded to the Palestinian appeal for boycott of Israel. We protested a visit by the Israeli state-sponsored Jerusalem Quartet to the 2008 Edinburgh International Festival. Next appearance in Edinburgh Sherriff Court is on Thursday October 1st, when our lawyers will argue to dismiss the case against us .

The Scottish legal authorities will attempt to prove that shouting 'End the siege of Gaza', and 'Boycott Israel' equals 'racism'. We five will argue that boycott of Israel is a duty while that State violates every canon of international law.

This is a political show-trial, encouraged by the stated positions of the British Government, and is aimed at intimidating Palestine supporters. We shall certainly not be intimdated: last year we saw off some Zionist rascals from SCoJeC (Scottish Council of Jewish Communities) who were unwise enough to claim in print that Scottish PSC is anti-Semitic. They then had to pulp 6,000 copies of a book, Scotland's Jews, in open admission that the claim was without foundation and libellous.

We will show in our defence/attack that

* we are bound to oppose grave Israeli crimes and British Government complicity in those crimes, including political, diplomatic, economic and military support for Israeli Governments
* the nearest domestic political equivalent in Britain to the factions in the Israeli Government is the neo-Nazi British National Party (BNP)
* Israel is an apartheid state as defined in international law
* the Palestinian-inspired BDS campaign is a duty for consistent supporters of human rights, i.e. those who repudiate a racist attitude that Palestinians, Iraqis, Afghans and others have a lesser entitlement that others
* the Jerusalem Quartet are indeed, as we claim, institutionally linked to the Israeli Army and its State, and thus to be boycotted by human rights supporters

Expert witnesses - Palestinians, Israelis and others - will show that the growing support for the Palestinian BDS appeal is justified by

* the history of ethnic cleansing carried out by the Zionist movement and its State from 1948 to the present
* the conscious determination of the Israeli State to continue with further criminal acts of ethnic cleansing
* the failure of the British Government to honour its international legal obligations to opppose Israeli apartheid, specifically the illegal Wall and settlement building

Witnesses who have agreed to give expert evidence or personal testimonies for the defence include:

* Leila Khaled, Palestinian refugee and resistance fighter, Member of Palestinian National Council
* Dr. Ghada Karmi, Palestinian writer and academic
* Omar Barghouti PACBI (Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott)
* Dr. Hisham Genayem, Palestinian refugee and surgeon
* Dr. Moshe Machover, Israeli academic and anti-Zionist political activist
* Dr. Michael Kearney, University of York (t.b.c)
* Dr. Keith Hammond, University of Glasgow
* Yael Kahn, Israeli human rights activist
* Marion Woolfson, Hon. President of Scottish PSC
* Liz Elkind, ex-President of the STUC, moved successful report and recommendation for BDS at STUC 2009 Perth Conference
* Tony Greenstein, (JBIG) Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods
* Rt. Hon. Peter Hain MP, veteran anti-apartheid campaigner in the 70's, Chair of Stop All Racist Tours (awaiting reply)
* Members of the public who witnessed the protest during the performance
* BBC sound technicians who recorded the entire event (awaiting reply)

We are asking supporters to

* send letters of support to
* invite one of the accused to speak and explain the background and aims of the campaign to your trade union, political party branch, mosque, church or campaign group
* turn up outside, and inside, the Court on October 1st and later sessions
* make a donation to the campaign (Judge Horseburgh criticised the Legal Aid board severely for refusal to provide legal aid to one of the accused.)
* boycott everything Israeli, except those Israelis supporting Palestinian human and national rights
* join the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign to help us build this campaign

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