I learn from the online edition of the Jerusalem Post that a group of activists from the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) who disrupted a concert by the Jerusalem String Quartet in Edinburgh during the 2008 Festival have been charged with “racially aggravated harassment”.
At a performance in Edinburgh’s Queens Hall on 29 August 2009, four members of the SPSC interrupted the concert by shouting at the musicians and audience. It was claimed that the activists caused distress to both the orchestra and members of the audience.
The protesters had originally been charged with disturbing the peace, but at Edinburgh Sheriff Court those charges were dropped in favor of the more serious charge of “racially motivated conduct.”
Sofia Macleod, one of those charged, is quoted as saying: “We think it’s totally ridiculous. Our actions and campaigning are based on international human rights. We take the allegations seriously, but there is no question whatsoever that any of our actions are racist in any way.”
She added that the Palestine solidarity movement was “an anti-racist movement based on anti-racism,”.
In a statement put out by the group, SPSC chairman Mick Napier, who is also due to appear in court at a later date, said, “We thank the court for providing us with the forum to explain that opposition to the violent, racist state of Israel is motivated by a commitment to universal human rights. We support the Palestinian people faced with Zionist savagery, and we are contemptuous of attempts to smear such a struggle for justice with the taint of racism. I hope these charges are not quietly dropped and we will have the opportunity to meet our critics in open court.”
This brings to mind several questions, including: is being “racially motivated” the same thing as “racism”? As I understand that the string quartet are not accused of personally being involved in any human rights violations, they are being targeted due to their nationality. This is covered in the term “race” or “racial” in UK law. So in that sense, I guess the actions of the SPSC were “racially motivated” – but their support for the Palestinian people through charitable donations might also be described as “racially motivated”. Is that always a bad thing?
And is therefore “racially motivated” harrassment quantitively worse than plain old “alcohol motivated” harrassment? On one view, SPSC would argue that their motivations were a mitigating factor to any crime committed – however it may lead them to incur heavier penalties. Should we be prosecuting “thought crimes” anyway? And would this pass the “Nelson Mandela test”?