I sat through three days of the General Teaching Council Scotland (GTCS) four-day fitness-to-teach hearing of the ex-Convenor of the Confederation of Friends of Israel Scotland (COFIS), Edward Sutherland, a religious affairs teacher at Bell Academy in Ayr, Scotland. Despite his denials under oath, the GTCS panel found that Sutherland had posted anti-Semitic comments and that his fitness to teach has been impaired. It will decide in the coming days on sanctions.
Sutherland’s predecessor as COFIS Convenor, Nigel Goodrich, was also disgraced and left the UK after an earlier case involving Facebook deception when his membership of an extreme right-wing Facebook page was revealed. That group included individuals who had been jailed for violent assault, members of fascist group Britain First, and Israeli academic Mordechai Kedar who advocated on public radio the rape of family members to deter Palestinian resistance.
The clear intent of Sutherland’s fake Facebook profile, set up in the name of ‘Stevie Harrison’, was to bait and entrap Palestine solidarity activists as racists. Sutherland told the tribunal that several other current members of COFIS had also set up Facebook profiles with false identities. His own fake page, ‘Stevie Harrison’, posted about Glasgow Jewish lawyer Matthew Berlow that it “Looks like a certain Zio’s big nose is out of joint”.
In fact, Sutherland and Berlow were co-conspirators who went on to invent a graffiti attack on the lawyer’s home, which they then attributed to Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign. According to Sutherland’s testimony to the tribunal, theirs was a close collaboration. Asked if he shared his posts with Berlow before or after he posted them, Sutherland replied that it was “a combination of the two. It was a daily discussion. I shared all of them with Mr. Berlow”.
Having been caught in flagrante, and facing disciplinary action by their respective professional associations, Sutherland and Berlow put forward an unprecedented defence that subverted the main claims made by the pro-Israel lobby to witch-hunt pro-Palestine activists from their jobs and public life.
The smearing of political opponents as ‘anti-Semitic’ has been promoted by the Israeli regime since its foundation. One Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, explained that Israel works “to prove that the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is not a distinction at all”. Leading pro-Israel campaigner Lord Mann has demanded that UK Labour Party leader, Kier Starmer, outlaw the critical use of the term “Zionist”. That party has ruled that “Zio” was on a par with racist slurs, and “should have no place in Labour party discourse”. Jeremy Corbyn denounced "Zio" as a “vile epithet”.
ZIOS INSIST "ZIO" IS POLITICAL FREE SPEECH
Conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism was a constant of pro-Israel advocacy – until the recent GTCS hearing. UK Lawyers for Israel’s Prof. Leslie Klaff defended Sutherland by insisting that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism should not be confused; ‘Zio’ was merely “an abbreviation” and not racist:
“A reasonable person would realize that this is a reference to somebody who supports Israel…Zionism is a political ideology and there's a range of views held by Jews on Israel and there's a range of views held by non-Jews on Israel. There are plenty of non-Jews who are Zionist and there are quite a few Jews who aren't…Zionism is not legally recognized as an aspect of Jewish identity. It's recognized legally as a political movement or ideology to which some Jews subscribed. Many non-Jews do as well, so it's not unequivocally anti-Semitic.
Sutherland agreed with Klaff about “Zio” and “Zionist”: “It’s frequently used as a derogatory term for people who support the State of Israel, whether they're Jewish or not. It is only ever in my experience used as a political insult.”
Such a concerted defence of Sutherland exposes again the dishonesty of those working as part of the lobby for Israel. The image on the right shows Berlow, marching with Stein, Sutherland and other ‘Friends of Israel’ displaying the views they hold and which they collectively concealed from the tribunal.
ZIOS INSIST CURSING "ZIOS” IS ALSO POLITICAL FREE SPEECH
Even when “Zio” is used with a hostile expletive, Sutherland’s defence team insisted this was not anti-Semitic. Posting repeatedly about a “Zio prick” or a “fucking Zio” was not anti-Semitic but entirely political, claimed Sutherland:
In my experience it is an abbreviation for Zionist, in an entirely political sense. It’s entirely political and makes no reference to Jewish tradition culture or religion. "Zio prick" is vulgar but not anti-Semitic.
A REAL RACIST SLUR DEFENDED
Using a well-known anti-Semitic stereotype, Sutherland’s “Stevie Harrison” alter ego jeered about Matthew Berlow, previously identified as Jewish, that the “Zio’s big nose is out of joint”. Professor Klaff insisted that such a post was not anti-Semitic, “given that many Zionists are not Jews and given that many non-Jews have big noses and many Jews don't”. Taking black humour on a serious matter to even lower levels, Sutherland claimed the post was “not made generically about any group of people. It refers specifically to Mr Berlow personally having a big nose”.
The pro-Israel brigade in Scotland have a long history of fabricating anti-Semitic actions by Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Berlow himself in January 2018 had denounced “people from the spsc shouting about big noses” at his comrades in Glasgow city centre. The claim was evidence-free and patently false but that earlier fabrication stands in stark contrast to the evidence he and his friends gave under oath that they believed that jibes about “Zio big noses” do not constitute anti-Semitism. Perhaps it was Berlow’s earlier trialling of the ‘big nose’ theme that led the pair to use it later on Sutherland’s fake Facebook page.
He was asked if he thought someone genuinely posting any of those comments would be anti-Semitic: “I would say that this is a person who has a problem with supporters of Israel, with Zionists”.
ZIOS SUPPOSEDLY DEFENDING FREE SPEECH
Klaff defended the right to belligerent anti-Zionist discourse as being protected by the IHRA definition:
The IHRA definition was never intended as a tool to be used to sanction people or take away their livelihood or indeed to take away people’s free speech rights…or to discipline them because it’s got to be used in the context of other laws like employment, protection legislation, the right to free speech under Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights and so on
Throughout the hearing, Sutherland and Klaff insisted that only the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism had any value and they used the IHRA definition to defend Sutherland’s posts, including the only one ruled to be anti-Semitic, about Jewish lawyer Berlow, ‘Zio's big nose’.
Klaff issued a veiled threat of possible legal action against the GTCS if it found against Sutherland by relying on a dictionary definition of anti-Semitism:
If Mr.Sutherland was sanctioned for these comments on the basis of a definition other than the IHRA definition, if he was to pursue the case under the European Convention of Human Rights, courts would take a dim view of that. Given that the government has adopted it, I think we all need to be singing from the same hymn sheet.
THERE WERE SEVERAL WEAKNESSES in the proceedings of the GTC panel, each attributable to the fact that the only witnesses called were pro-Israel campaigners
- Although her testimony was recognised by the GTC ‘prosecutor’ to be ‘confusing’, ‘conflicting’, and ‘distinctly odd’, the supposedly ‘expert’ testimony of a member of UK Lawyers for Israel was not scrutinised by anyone with expertise in the field. Her counter-factual claims to be non-partisan were not challenged.
- The potentially criminal act of fabricating a crime to falsely incriminate SPSC was not included in the hearing on Sutherland’s fitness to teach, although the deception was jointly promoted by Sutherland and Berlow, and has been admitted under pressure by Berlow, who defended their joint endeavor as a “a moment of madness”. In fact Sutherland’s lawyer insisted there was no question of criminality in his client’s behavior and this went unchallenged.
- An lack of knowledge from members of the panel meant that the GFoI fantasy narrative of frightening aggression from ‘hate groups’ hostile to Israel was never questioned. Stein and Berlow were accepted unchallenged as “credible witnesses” and their record of working with a right-wing extremist and Holocaust denier to harass pro-Palestine campaigners remained undisclosed.
- Sutherland pleaded to the panel that “nothing I have done was motivated by intolerance or prejudice”. This went unchallenged, whereas the extreme anti-Palestinian racism of the group he led was expressed in numerous racist posts, including a post from the admin welcoming the “euthanizing” of three [Palestinian] rioters in Jerusalem”. Another praised the massacre of Muslims in a New Zealand mosque as “payback for what Muslims have done”
COFIS is a part of the Israeli lobby, and held a “political training day” near Glasgow with a diplomat from the Israeli Embassy. Matthew Berlow is on record that he takes “advice” from rhe Embassy on politicio-legal matters. During the four-day GTCS hearing the Israeli lobby demonstrated in detail and at length their true colours, that they are not interested in fighting racism but rather to defend Israel and attack those who stand with Palestine and expose the lobby.
15 April 2022