A charity ball held last night and organised by St Andrews’ AEPI Jewish fraternity and the Jewish Society was forced to change location from the Golf Hotel after staff received threats from protesters linked to the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign and several other activist groups.
The activists called for the event organisers and hotel to end their support for two charities, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and the Friends of Israel Defence Forces (FIDF). Protestors labelled the JNF an “openly racist” organisation, claiming that the JNF takes over Palestinian land and does not lease or sell land to non-Jews. They also described the FIDF as an “occupation force that brutalises, humiliates, kills and maims Palestinians.”
Two days before the event was due to take place, the Golf Hotel cancelled the event over safety concerns. Fears arose that the protest would turn violent when anti-Semitic comments were posted on Facebook. One protester wrote: “Friday we send them into hell.” Another, commenting on the police’s presence at the ball, said: “Mi5 Mossad boot boys don’t stand a chance.”
We Are All Hana Shalabi, Scotland’s Youth and Student Palestine Solidarity Movement and one of the organisations connected with the protest, told The Saint that they had urged the hotel not to host to event but denied that those who threatened staff were linked to the official demonstration.
A spokesperson said: “We are of the understanding that a small minority of the many individuals who lobbied the Hotel and the organisers directly may have expressed themselves in an unacceptable manner, and condemn this as is appropriate.
“While we do not know the full details of any comments made, the Hotel manager accepted the assurances of the SPSC that those who may have engaged in threatening or otherwise unacceptable conduct were unknown to and acted without the support of any of the organising parties.
“We are encouraged that the call for the Golf Hotel to withdraw its support for the event was heeded, it illustrates the increasing anathemitisation of organisations such as FIDF and the JNF, and the scale of opposition to their activities.
“Furthermore, we urge the AEPI and Jewish Society to abstain from any further charitable support of these organisations. The Jewish Society has described itself as friendly, welcoming, and non-political; we call upon its members to hold it to account to ensure it becomes so once more,” he said.
One of the organisers of the ball told The Saint that they tried to relocate to another St Andrews venue but further fears over staff safety halted their efforts. The organisers tried to book Venue 2 in the Union but Freddie Fforde, Students’ Association President, said that given the short time frame it was not feasible to host the ball. He added: “My main concern is the Jewish students who have been threatened. The language used by these groups has eroded any sympathy I have for the protest.”
The Golf Hotel confirmed on Friday afternoon that the event had been cancelled and protesters posted on Facebook that “The JNF and FIDF have been given a strong message that fundraising for war criminals and ethnic cleansing will not be tolerated anywhere in Scotland.”
However, despite the reports, The Saint can reveal that the ball took place at a secret location. Guests were not told the venue but were picked up by taxis from pubs and bars around St Andrews. Six members of security were provided for the event, some of whom, a senior member of the organising committee told The Saint, were plain clothed police officers.
A spokesperson for Police Scotland confirmed that “appropriate measures” were taken in case there were protests but she would not confirm if plain clothed officers were present. Guests were asked at the door not to tweet or post on Facebook details of the venue.
The senior member of the organising committee told The Saint: “The safety and security of our guests was always our first priority and we worked closely with St Andrews police, a private security firm and volunteers to ensure that the event could go ahead as planned.
“At no point was the event cancelled and we are delighted that it was such a success, both in terms of the amounts raised for charity and the enjoyment of all our guests.”
The organisers had initially aimed to raise around £350 from the event. However, the change of venue and donations received from those who sympathised with the threatened students resulted in a final total of around £1,000. One man donated £230 to cover security and taxi costs to and from the venue to ensure the safety of guests.
A senior member of the Jewish society said she felt disgusted that the protesters had turned to threats of violence rather than engage the organisers in an open dialogue. She said: “I am a firm believer in freedom of expression but the problem came with their extremely offensive comments.
“They latched onto a party of 35 friends and decided that it was a massive Jewish conspiracy. I’ve lived in Israel, I’ve worked in Palestinian communities and I’ve never felt more threatened in my life by people who don’t even know who I am,” she said.
She described the Golf Hotel’s decision to cancel the event as “pathetic.” She added: “They [the Golf Hotel] had no right to violate their part of the contract. The Golf Hotel is scared of them. A victory does not come from bullying people into submission, it comes from engaging people and opening their minds.”
After speaking to Niall Thompson, the Golf Hotel’s manager, Paul Morron of the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council reportedly said: “I conveyed the extent of the concern of the Jewish community that a hotel of its stature had caved in so easily to intimidation – something that would damage its reputation.”
“I contacted Inspector Meek, of St Andrews Police, and he told me that they had not had any serious concerns about policing the event.
“We regard this as a very serious incident, setting a worrying precedent in Scotland. “It’s not up to others to dictate to the Jewish community what charities they should support. That’s just not acceptable.”
Scottish Jewish Chaplaincy chairman Nicola Livingston added: “Students should be allowed to go about their ordinary business without fear of intimidation.
“This was purely a social event. Most of the charities are welfare ones, including Save a Child’s Heart, which saves the lives of children from around the world, including Palestinian children.
“Giving in to bully-boy tactics doesn’t do the reputation of the hotel any good at all.”
The Scottish Jews for a Just Peace expressed their “deep sadness” that the Jewish society chose to support the JNF. A spokesman said: “The JNF takes over Palestinian land – including homes of Palestinian refugees and land in the occupied territories – and will not lease or sell land to non-Jews … St Andrews Jewish Society claims to be friendly, welcoming and non-political. We ask it to live up to that description.”