Page last updated at 14:21 GMT, Thursday, 8 April 2010 15:21 UK

Israel protest at concert 'was not racist'

Generic Israeli flag
The sheriff ruled the protest was not aimed at individual Israelis

Protesters who disrupted a concert by an Israeli string quartet in Edinburgh have had charges of racially aggravated conduct thrown out by a court.

The five members of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign shouted slogans during the performance by the Jerusalem String Quartet.

But a sheriff said the comments had been directed at the state of Israel rather than individual Israeli people.

He ruled the case against the accused was not competent and dismissed it.

About 60 supporters of the five accused burst into applause when Sheriff James Scott delivered his judgement at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.

It seemed to me that the procurator fiscal's attempts to squeeze malice and ill will were rather strained
Sheriff James Scott

The Crown had brought the charges against Michael Napier, 63, Sofia Macleod, 39, Vanesa Fuertes, 35, Kevin Connor, 40, and Neil Forbes, 55, all from Edinburgh.

It was alleged that on 29 August 2008 at Queen's Hall in Edinburgh they had pursued a racially aggravated course of conduct amounting to harassment of the string quartet, which was performing at the city's International Festival.

The prosecution claimed that by shouting slogans including "they are Israeli army musicians", "genocide in Gaza", "end genocide in Gaza" and "boycott Israel" the accused had made comments which evinced malice towards the musicians based on their membership of an ethnic group or nationality.

They were also alleged to have disrupted the concert and struggled with security staff.

'Strained' attempts

Two alternative charges accused them of acting in a racially aggravated manner, and causing or intending to cause the members of the quartet alarm and distress.

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.

But he said the prosecution had failed to show the five accused had acted together, which made the prosecution disproportionate, and also stated that the comments made during the performance had been clearly directed at the state of Israel and Israeli army.

The sheriff ruled in open court that it is perfectly legitimate to criticise the crimes of the state of Israel and that does not in any way constitute racism of any kind
Mick Napier
Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign

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, he added.

He said: "It seemed to me that the procurator fiscal's attempts to squeeze malice and ill will were rather strained".

The sheriff also said that the right to protest would be worthless if protestors were afraid of being charged with racially aggravated behaviour for naming a state they believed had committed crimes.

Their placards, the sheriff said, would need to read "genocide in an unspecified part of the Middle East" and "boycott an unspecified state in the Middle East".

He said 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.

The sheriff discharged the complaint simpliciter.

Appealing decision

Speaking outside court, Mr Napier - the chairman of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign - said he and the other four protestors welcomed the sheriff's ruling.

"He ridiculed and satirised the procurator fiscal's efforts to protect a foreign state, in this case Israel, from criticism," Mr Napier said

"The sheriff could have hidden behind generalities, but today in court we discussed the state of Israel specifically and the sheriff ruled in open court that it is perfectly legitimate to criticise the crimes of the state of Israel and that does not in any way constitute racism of any kind.

"It is a constant never-ending attempt by those who support the state of Israel to name those who support the Palestiniains as anti-Semites. It never ends. Well it ended in court today and we will not be intimidated by this smear in the future."

Fiscal depute Graham Fraser said the Crown would be appealing the decision.

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

During legal debate earlier this year, lawyers representing the accused 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.

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