The campaigners, all members of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC), had interrupted the August 2008 Edinburgh Festival concert by the Jerusalem Quartet. Tours by the classical musicians are regularly sponsored by the Israeli Government, which the campaign group claims makes them a legitimate target for protest.
The campaigners had been accused of making “comments about Jews, Israelis, and the State of Israel”, but during a three-day legal debate at Edinburgh Sheriff Court, a BBC audio recording of the event revealed that there had been no reference made to “Jews”. Comments included “They are Israeli Army musicians”, “End the Siege of Gaza”, “Genocide in Gaza”, and “Boycott Israel”.
The Sheriff expressed concern that to continue with the prosecution would have implications for freedom of expression generally:
“if persons on a public march designed to protest against and publicise alleged crimes committed by a state and its army are afraid to name that state for fear of being charged with racially aggravated behaviour, it would render worthless their Article 10(1) rights. Presumably their placards would have to read, ‘Genocide in an unspecified state in the Middle East’; ‘Boycott an unspecified state in the Middle East’ etc.
“Having concluded that continuation of the present prosecution is not necessary or proportionate, and therefore incompetent, it seems to me that the complaint must be dismissed.”
Mr Fraser, the Procurator Fiscal Depute, said he would be appealing the ruling.
Today’s ruling will disappoint the musicians whose concerts now attract regular protest. After a similar disruption of their Wigmore Hall concert last week they issued a statement claiming to “have no connection with or patronage by the [Israeli] Government”. However, organisers of their November 2009 Australia tour acknowledged that “The Israeli Government provided about $8000 towards the costs of the tour”, but explained, “this was only a minuscule proportion of the total cost.”
Outside Edinburgh Sheriff Court, supporters held banners reproducing the ‘racist’ slogans, and a number of enlarged concert programs indicating Israeli Embassy sponsorship of the quartet’s tours were on display. Human rights lawyer, Aamer Anwar, representing Mr Napier, read a statement on behalf of his client: “We welcome today’s judgment which impacts on civil liberties nationally. A dangerous precedent would be set if demonstrators were criminalised for racism for protesting against state genocide by Israel or any other country.”
SPSC chair, Mick Napier had mixed feelings about the ruling:
“While this particular attempt to criminalise solidarity with Palestine has failed, British Government support for Israel continues. In England, more than 20 prison sentences – some for over 2 years – have been handed out to those who protested Israel’s massacre of 1400 mostly civilians in Gaza last year. On the subject of racism, of the 78 charged, all but two are young Muslims.
“If our case had gone to trial, it would have been Israel in the dock, not us. We had a string of witnesses from Palestine, Israel, and South Africa lined up to discuss the real racism and apartheid that Palestinians face daily. As long as the ethnic cleansing of Palestine continues, Israel’s political, cultural, and sporting ambassadors will face boycott protest similar to that faced by the racist apartheid South African regime in the last century.
“It’s time for politicians to fall into line with public opinion. Alex Salmond’s recent call for a review of trade relations with Israel is a step in the right direction, but what that means in practice remains to be seen.”
[A link to the written judgement by Sheriff James Scott will be available shortly]
1. The Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign started in autumn 2000 in response to the Palestinian second uprising against Israeli occupation (Intifada). The SPSC has branches and groups of supporters in several Scottish cities and universities, as well as individual members across Scotland and elsewhere.
For further information, contact:
SPSC Chair, Mick Napier: 0131 620 0052; 07958002591
2. The campaigners interrupted the Aug 29th 2008 Edinburgh Festival performance of the Jerusalem Quartet at Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall. They were originally charged with Breach of the Peace, but weeks after last year’s violence in Gaza which took the lives of 1400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis, the Procurator Fiscal changed the charge to “racially aggravated conduct”.
The campaigners maintained that their criticism was focussed on the State of Israel, and that as the Jerusalem Quartet are sponsored by their state to “promote the policy interests of the State of Israel via culture and art” [contract between the Jerusalem Quartet and Israel’s Foreign Ministry], their concert was a legitimate target for protest.
Quote on Israeli Government funding taken from Australian newspaper, The Age:
Boycott urged on quartet October 29, 2009:
“The Israeli Government provided about $8000 towards the costs of the tour. Mary-Jo Capps, the chief executive of Musica Viva, the Australian touring organisation that has brought the quartet out annually for the past four years, said this was only a minuscule proportion of the total cost.”
See also, US Library of Congress, concert program:
Saturday, December 8, 2007 at 8:00 pm
JERUSALEM QUARTET Co-sponsored by the Embassy of Israel
The group’s sponsors, the Jerusalem Foundation, describes the quartet as “Prestigious Cultural Ambassadors Representing Israel and Jerusalem”:
This and other details of the musicians’ state-sponsorship here:
The Jerusalem Quartet’s statement distancing themselves from the Israeli Government can be found on their website:
3. The campaigners challenged the validity of the “racially aggravated conduct” charge in relation to a political protest focused on the State of Israel. The case is still at the pre-trial stage and no plea has been tendered.
Judgement on the legal debate was given at 11am on Thursday 8th April 2010 at Edinburgh Sheriff Court. If the challenge had failed, a date would have been set for trial.
4. The debate lasted three days: 21st + 22nd January 2010; and 29th Mar 2010. A report of the January debate, including a partial transcript of the BBC recording can be found here:
The Mar 29th 2010 diet had to be transferred to a larger courtroom to accommodate around 100 supporters.
5. Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond called for a review of the UK’s trade relationship with Israel, after it emerged that Israel’s Mossad had forged British passports for use in the assassination of a Palestinian Hamas leader.
Speaking on the BBC’s Question Time in Glasgow, 25th March 2010, Alex Salmond told the audience, “you can’t have normal relationships if you believe another country has been involved in what Israel has been involved in”.
Salmond said the response “should be more than expelling a diplomat”, which he derided as a “diplomatic dance”, and added, “this has implications for example in trading relationships”.
Report and transcript here:
Salmond’s statements come 3 minutes into this clip (55 mins, 16 secs)
6. Deborah Fink is a member of Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, and is a professional classical singer. During her protest at London’s Wigmore Hall on 29th March, she sang
Settlers destroy her peace.
We’ll sing out, until apartheid
And ethnic cleansing cease.
The live BBC Radio 3 broadcast was stopped halfway through her song.
Of the Scottish case, Fink said:
“It is the charges themselves that are racist. For the prosecutor to submit that it is ‘racist’ to say ‘End the Siege of Gaza’ shows callous indifference to the suffering of the Palestinians. While Israel’s crimes go on, we must speak out.”
Deborah Fink can be contacted on request.
The Brighton and Hove Palestine Solidarity Campaign press release of Mar 29th 2010 reporting the Wigmore Hall protest can be found here:
7. Hundreds of individuals and organisations, including Journalist John Pilger, actor Tam Dean Burn, Palestinian professor Haidar Eid, and the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network have signed an “Open letter in defence of the right to boycott Israel”:
Many have sent messages of support:
John Pilger writes that the case “should be laughed out of court”.
8. The Aug 29th 2008 protest was endorsed by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI):
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) fully endorses the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s call on the Edinburgh Festival to withdraw its invitation to the Jerusalem Quartet. Members of this Israeli Quartet began their career with active service in the Israeli army, where they served as “Distinguished Musicians,” enjoying the sponsorship of mainstream Israeli cultural institutions such as the Jerusalem Foundation, which regards them as “prestigious cultural ambassadors, representing Israel and Jerusalem.”
From the beginning, the Quartet’s international tours have been actively promoted by the Israeli government. As such, and since the Quartet has not taken any clear position on the various forms of oppression of the Palestinian people, PACBI supports the Scottish PSC’s call to boycott the Jerusalem Quartet as an institution that is complicit in maintaining Israel’s occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people.