Swansea’s Tesco 2 and the meaning of ‘racially aggravated’

swansea_palestineFrom a few sources today I’ve heard that Dee Murphy and Greg Wilkinson, two activists from Swansea Action for Palestine, have been arrested for spray-painting (blood red) a boxes of Israeli peppers and stencilling ‘boycott Israel’ on the floor of a Sainsbury’s in Swansea. They weren’t arrested for racism, but for “racially aggravated criminal damage“.

The allegation was taken badly by the activists, who retorted, “We are beginning to feel harassed for speaking out”.  Activists who are charged with racially aggravated crime in relation to their anti-Israel campaigning tend to say this sort of thing – see for example the response of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign when they were charged with racially aggravated harassment against an Israeli chamber orchestra. Jenny Bourne, a “Jewish veteran anti-racist campaigner”, commented “It is an irony that whoever made this ridiculous allegation is being racist by implying that “Israeli” constitutes a race”.

I’m not sure what happened at the supermarket or whether the raids on the homes of the protesters were or weren’t appropriate. They are not thought to be dangerous and have been bailed until June.  But Jenny Bourne is wrong, as far as I can see.  The law in question is the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act, Section II 28 (4) of which reads:

“In this section “racial group” means a group of persons defined by reference to race, colour, nationality (including citizenship) or ethnic or national origins.”

The Home Office produced a guide to the act which includes:

“3.11 Section 28(1)(b) is the second string of the test of what amounts to “racially aggravated”. The racial hostility need not be the sole motivating factor nor does it need to be the primary one. Section 28(1)(b) makes it clear that the behaviour will be covered by the Act even if the racial hostility is only part of the motivation for the offence if the damaged property belonged, or was treated as belonging, to a Pakistani.”

So an offence can be legally defined as racially aggravated if it’s based in some way on nationality or citizenship, and when Greg Wilkinson told a friend, “the use of the words ‘Israel’ and ‘Israeli’ is no more racist than the use of, say, British, in relation to invasion of Iraq or Aghanistan”, he missed the point. The “racially aggravated” part is contingent on a crime having been committed in the first place – and it seems that the SAP activists are not denying the criminal damage.

The law exists to help the government identify racial, national, ethnic and religious elements in crimes. Basically, if the “Jewish veteran anti-racist campaigner” wants that law changed, she should look into how it is used in practice. She should search the web for, say, “racially aggravated” and the nationality of her choice (I tried Polish) to get a better impression of how it works.

It’s also worth considering that SAP don’t just “speak out”. They do inflammatory direct action with quantities of red paint. If I look at the blood-baths they create and try to work out what they want, my best guess is that they want me to hate and condemn Israel, the blood-letting state, as they do, and turn it into a pariah. In this video-recorded protest, shopping trolleys of  food were overturned in the entrance of Tesco, their contents strewn over the ground and fake blood flung about to the sound of a tom-tom. Even if we could rely on the protesters for a straight story (it is unclear, whether, for instance any West Bank products are from Palestinian businesses – it would be very ironic if the products they were slinging paint over were actually the genuine article) their message is not “stop buying settlement goods” – it’s a call for a “national boycott of Israel”. Dee Murphy blurted a reference to Israel’s “sin” revealing a religious slant to her protest. As is standard, a discussion of any Palestinian role in the conflict is completely absent from SAP’s reckoning.

blood_tescoBut how are we supposed to protest Israel’s brutal occupation? Seems to me that if you’re an advocate for Palestinians then protesting products from the settlements which are labelled ‘West Bank’ or ‘Israel’ in a way which is misleading is very straightforward. You assert – publicly, to the supermarkets, and to your MP – your right to know whether the proceeds from the goods you are buying are helping the Palestinian economy or the settler economy. You explain why it is important to help one, and not to help the other. You need never (unless you already have a record as such, perhaps, or unless you encounter very prejudiced opponents) be misunderstood as anti-Israel or antisemitic.

So why are we still seeing so much fake blood?

Greg Wilkinson again, musing on the significance of the raid on his home:

“Still, question remains who authorised this disproportionate use of police power and numbers – thousands of pound worth of public money to get to the bottom of a box of Israeli peppers and some graffiti on a Bridgend floor?

This development shows two things:

  1. the campaign to boycott is beginning to bite and the Zionists have been panicked into a hasty and counterproductive response.
  2. Things are going to get much rougher from now on”

Those dangerous, all-controlling – but strangely ploddish – Zionists.

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