Racially abused Jewish student felt 'unsafe' at St Andrews

By Marcus Dysch, August 24, 2011

A Jewish student who was racially abused in his university bedroom has said he felt a sense of duty to defend himself and see his abuser brought to justice.

Chanan Reitblat said he realised the trial would become a landmark case for Israel-supporting students, and that despite the personal hurt and humiliation, he must give evidence.

Speaking to the JC in his first media interview, Lithuanian-born Mr Reitblat said: "This was not just about me. This was for every Jewish student who has felt afraid to express their identity.

"I go home with my head held high and can go on with my life and my studies. I'm satisfied with the verdict and hope it will have a positive impact for Jewish students."

Fellow student Paul Donnachie was yesterday found guilty of racially abusing the post-graduate during the incident at a St Andrews University halls of residence in March.

Donnachie, 19, of Blackpool, rubbed his genitals before wiping his hands on an Israeli flag pinned to Mr Reitblat's bedroom wall and moments later shouted about "a nation built on terrorism" and claimed "they are all suicide bombers".

His co-accused, Samuel Colchester, was acquitted after the same charge against him was deemed to be not proven.

United States-based Mr Reitblat, 21, spent two hours giving evidence to Cupar Sheriff Court on Monday.

He said: "The whole process was humiliating. It's affected everything and has really turned my whole world upside down. I'm glad I can now move forward."

Mr Reitblat's brother served in the IDF's Marva training programme and later handed him his Israeli flag.

"He gave me the flag and it has a lot of additional and enhanced sentimental value to me because my brother literally fought for this flag."

Mr Reitblat's family left Lithuania when he was two, to move to the US. He said: "My parents fought for Jewish rights in the former Soviet Union and we fled to escape oppression. Yet this happened to me in the 21st century, at one of the best universities.

"As a Jew you are always going to be the target of collective hatred but for it to be individualised towards me was very surprising. I'm very pleased with the way St Andrews has dealt with it. They were very swift in their judgment."

The university expelled Donnachie following his conviction and suspended Mr Colchester for one year after an internal investigation.

Mr Reitblat paid tribute to the efforts of the Jewish community in Scotland – including members of the Northern Region Jewish Chaplaincy Board and chaplain Rabbi Garry Wayland – who helped him through the past five months.

"It was a very difficult time for me and the community took me in as one of their own. I stayed in their homes when I did not feel safe at St Andrews.

"This started as a Chanan Reitblat issue, but then it became a Jewish issue affecting us all as a community , which is why I felt I had to come back and fight it. I was interrogated on my personal beliefs, but I understood what was at stake."

Demonstrations were held outside the court by the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Scottish Jews for a Just Peace.

Mr Reitblat and members of the chaplaincy board, who had accompanied him throughout the trial, had to be escorted back to their car by police as the protesters shouted abuse after the verdict.

He said the protests had intimidated him and left him "deeply offended".

"The behaviour of those two groups clearly indicated to me that their motives are not so much to do with defending Palestinian rights as they are to do with the destruction of Israel."

Donnachie has vowed to appeal the ruling. He is due to be sentenced on September 13.

Last updated: 9:53am, August 25 2011