Donnachie: St Andrews Jewish student 'very rich'

September 15, 2011
Paul Donnachie in white t-shirt with a daubed Israeli flag outside court

Paul Donnachie in white t-shirt with a daubed Israeli flag outside court

The student convicted of a racially aggravated attack on a Jewish student at St Andrews University was defiant this week, despite his sentence of 150 hours of community service and a £300 fine of compensation to his victim.

Paul Donnachie, 19, of Blackpool, was expelled from the university after his attack on Chanan Reitblat, an exchange student from Yeshiva University in New York. Donnachie and his friend Samuel Colchester had pushed their way into Mr Reitblat's room in the hall of residence at St Andrews. A drunk Donnachie had rubbed his hands down his trousers before wiping them on the Israeli flag which Mr Reitblat had hanging above his bed.

Witnesses said Donnachie also called Mr Reitblat a "terrorist" and shouted about a "a nation built on terrorism".

Mr Colchester, who was suspended from St Andrews for a year, was not convicted.

On Tuesday, angry protesters packed into Cupar Sheriff Court, while many more sympathisers gathered outside. Some had an Israeli flag on which they daubed red paint and plum juice. There were shouts of "scandal", "shame" and "disgrace" as Sheriff Charles Macnair delivered his sentence.

Sheriff Macnair told Donnachie, a member of Scottish Palestine Solidarity: "This was a racist incident. Nobody disputes your right to a particular view as to the behaviour of Israel, that is perfectly legitimate. Equally, however, Mr Reitblat had a perfectly legitimate view to take about Israel."

Donnachie's behaviour had "crossed the line," the sheriff said. "What you did did your cause no credit at all. The part of your behaviour that I found to be most serious was that you described Mr Reitblat as a terrorist.

"That is the direct equivalent of suggesting all Muslims are terrorists...and is wholly unacceptable.

"To describe Mr Reitblat as a terrorist is precisely the sort of conduct you declare you are against."

Members of the Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign applauded and cheered as Donnachie emerged from the court, some branding him a "hero" and insisting his conviction breached his right to freedom of political expression.

"I believe that the sentence is a travesty...and the compensation order is disgusting," he said.

"I understand that Mr Reitblat is a very rich individual, and my concern is that this money I am being forced to pay will ultimately go to Zionist organisations." In fact, Mr Reitblat wrote on his Facebook page that he would donate the money to Israeli victims of terror, including the bereaved Fogel family in the West Bank settlement of Itamar.

Donnachie, who lives in Blackpool, pledged to appeal the sentence.

Immediately after the court case, members of the SPSC began fundraising for such an appeal and had raised over £100 within 10 minutes of the sentence being handed down.

Donnachie said he hoped to continue his studies at another university. He also plans to spend some time volunteering in the West Bank.

His solicitor, Patrick Campbell, had urged Sheriff Charles Macnair to deal with the matter leniently, saying: "He is extremely remorseful as he did not intend to cause any distress or alarm to the complainer.

"He does hold strong views about the rights of Israel...he apologises for his conduct but not for his particular beliefs.

"Mr Donnachie is of the view that the conduct which formed the background to this complaint was politically motivated. He has paid a high price for his beliefs," Mr Campbell added.

Last updated: 1:42pm, September 15 2011