Five SPSC members interrupted a concert by the Israeli musicians and sponsored cultural ambassadors of the State of Israel, the Jerusalem Quartet, during their Aug 2008 Edinburgh Festival performance at the Queen’s Hall. After being removed by private security guards, they were subsequently arrested, detained in Police cells, and later charged with “breach of the peace”.
At a hearing one week before their March 9th trial, the Procurator Fiscal (PF) dropped the charge and indicated she would be levelling new charges that the 5 human rights campaigners were “racially motivated”. At the time, she explained this to the Sheriff by stating that “new evidence had come to light”.,
As it turns out, no “new evidence had come to light”, other than evidence supporting an ever-widening view that Israel is an Apartheid state, and that the campaign of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) was both necessary and ever-more effective. In the months between the concert protest and the trial, Israel had massacred 1400 Palestinians in Gaza, and for once, the media was unable to mask the barbarity of Israel’s crimes.
Perhaps the “new evidence” was the London Declaration on Anti-Semitism (Feb 2009). Gordon Brown was the first “world leader” to sign the document that had been put together by leading Zionists from around the world in order to conflate two distinct issues: anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel.
Just one example of many such conflations: “Education Authorities should… protect students and staff from illegal antisemitic discourse and a hostile environment in whatever form it takes including calls for boycotts”.
It appears that “illegal antisemitic discourse” includes “calls for boycotts”.
The fact that this type of conflation “must… inform policy of national and international organisations and as a basis for training material for use by Criminal Justice Agencies” may start to explain why, for the PF at least, supporting Palestine by boycotting Apartheid Israel became anti-Semitic, while fighting the racism of Apartheid South Africa through boycott was never deemed anti-white.”
It doesn’t really explain why Auschwitz survivor, Hajo Meyer is pictured here at Edinburgh Sheriff Court after the Jan 22nd 2010 hearing with two of the five accused. It does however fit in with the logic of leading Zionists such as Jonathan Hoffman, co-vice-chairman of the Zionist Federation, who described the 86 year-old as a “grotesque, ungainly performing bear in the circus after a Sunday Herald article quoted one of the last remaining Auschwitz survivors: “The Israelis tried to dehumanise the Palestinians, just like the Nazis tried to dehumanise me.”
The charge: “Racially Aggravated Conduct”?
It is almost 1 ½ years since the concert and finally, after countless court appearances, the legal debate began on Jan 21st and 22nd 2010. The debate is being held in response to a challenge from the accused that it is against freedom of expression for legitimate criticism of Israel to be considered racist.
The charge is that they “made comments about Jews, Israelis, and the State of Israel… evincing malice and ill will” towards the musicians because of “their membership or presumed membership of an ethnic group”.
This was a lie, and it is difficult to imagine that the PF didn’t know it was a lie.
It had been clear at the time of arrest that their intervention and criticism had been geared toward Israel and that the JQ had been targeted because of their status as sponsored cultural ambassadors of the State of Israel. The Police had interviewed the quartet and audience members and nothing racist had been reported. It is inconceivable that out of 1000 spectators—many of them supportive of Israel—that if anything racist had been said, it wouldn’t have been the main topic of conversation (and rightly so).
Actually, for anyone to have falsely cried “racism” would have been extremely unwise—the event was recorded in high quality audio by the BBC. Although we had to fight the BBC to hand over the recording, the transcript of this became the basis for the legal debate that took place last week.
The transcript confirmed the lie. The PF had no choice but to strike the word, “Jews” from the charge.
When defence Counsel requested that the term “Israelis” be removed as well, the Sheriff explained that he had no power to change the charge; only the PF could do that. The only reference to “Israelis” is the following: “Daniel Barenboim is an Israeli of conscience; we support all Israelis of conscience”. The PF refused to remove the term: either he genuinely considers the statement racist, or he genuinely fears the consequences - i.e. the political nature of the charge would be overtly exposed: racism = making "comments about Jews,
Israelis, and the State of Israel"
Striking the word "Jews" from the charge left the PF with another problem: neither Israelis nor the State of Israel could be described as an "ethnic group". When this point was made, the PF took some time out, returning to propose that the term "or nationality" be added to the charge. Unfortunately for the PF, and for many Israelis, there is no such thing as Israeli nationality. The proposal was not opposed. See "Charged with hunting unicorns and harassing Israeli ‘nationals’."
Over the course of the 5 interruptions, the transcript attributes the following to the protestors, and later, the JQ spokesperson (repetitions and irrelevant material removed):
“They’re Israeli Army musicians; Genocide in Gaza; End the Siege of Gaza.
Boycott Israel; These musicians are representatives of the state of Israel.
Daniel Barenboim refused to take part in Israel 60 celebrations; The Jerusalem Quartet celebrates ethnic cleansing; They’re sponsored by the state of Israel; Daniel Barenboim is an Israeli of conscience; we support all Israelis of conscience, but not if they celebrate ethnic cleansing.
They’re killing people in Gaza; And you with your silence are killing people as well?; Israel is killing people, killing Palestinians every day; We should stand for human rights; we shouldn’t be silent.
I’m ashamed of myself for supporting this; The music is beautiful but if what these people said is true, we should be ashamed of ourselves for supporting this.”
Let me tell you a few things about the quartet because as I can see on behalf of the quartet there is a big misunderstanding about who we are, and who we represent, and what our reason to come here and play in the Edinburgh Festival.
Em, you know the name, Jerusalem Quartet, it’s funny that now it’s a big fuss about the name, but we started 15 years ago [1993?], when there were peace in Israel, among Arabs, among Israel; it was just before the first Intifada [1987?], it was the beginning of the first Intifada, but that’s politics, I don’t want to talk about, sorry…
We all know that in Israel, there are good things of course, and there are bad things, politics and other things that are not connected to music.
But let me tell you that we are here to bring you the good things from Israel;
We are not here to bring the bad things.
You know, politics it’s not our field; we are here under the name of the Jerusalem Quartet to bring music; to show you that there is art in Israel, and we are, of course we have an army to defend ourself, and nothing is perfect in life, but at least we have music.
As can be seen from his speech, and as pointed out by the defence team, the JQ spokesperson, however irritated, understood that the protest was political—not racist.
It is also clear that he understood his role as a cultural ambassador of the State of Israel, and was “aware that the purpose of ordering services from him is to promote the policy interests of the State of Israel via culture and art, including contributing to creating a positive image for Israel”, as per his contract. See Yitzhak Laor, “Putting out a contract on art” published in Haaretz, July 31 2008.
The defence made reference to a range of European Court rulings that had overturned lower court decisions that had interfered with political freedom of expression:
“Where interference is not necessary in a democratic society, it must be deemed disproportionate.”
“Democracy requires freedom of political expression”.
Expanding on this, other arguments included:
“Seeking this prosecution invites the Lord Advocate to prevent criticism of another country.”
“In defining their action as racially aggravated, the Crown criminalise legitimate views and opinions.”
If the prosecution were to succeed, “such comments would become criminal even when made at a street protest.”
It was argued that the law in question was designed to deal with racist behaviour; not legitimate political protest.
It was made clear that it was ridiculous that anyone should be labelled a “racist” for the mild non-violent anti-racist political protest that took place. Interestingly, the Sheriff responded by saying, “I don’t think anyone is suggesting that your client is a racist; the Crown simply alleges a breach of Section 50…”
The courtroom was packed on both days, and the defence arguments were comprehensive and solid. The debate was scheduled to last two days, but after the defence case had been made, there was little time left to hear the Crown’s case; the Sheriff also accepted that the PF might want time to research the defence arguments presented.
The case will call again at 9.30am on Monday 29th March when the PF has the unenviable job of explaining why criticising Israel is racist. He indicated that one hour should be enough.
The sheriff’s judgement will be made on Thursday April 8th at 9.30am.
Was it racist to boycott Apartheid South Africa in the last century? We'll find out.
Scottish PSC is committed to full human rights for all; we oppose a Jewish supremacist State in Israel/Palestine as others opposed a White supremacist state in South Africa or Alabama. In those cases, anti-racist campaigners did not have to put up with absurd allegations that they were racist. SPSC had to take legal action against the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (SCOJEC; whose leadership are staunch supporters of the state of Israel) after they published allegations that SPSC 'demonised Jews' by pointing out Israel's murderous crimes.
SPSC is an anti-racist campaign; SCOJEC had to pulp 6,000 copies of their book.