Former student joins hate crime campaign

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A former St Andrews student, Chanan Reitblat, is backing a new campaign from the Scottish government called Speak Up Against Hate Crime. The campaign aims to encourage people who experience or witness hate crime to report it.

Mr Reitblat studied at the University of St Andrews in 2011 while on a semester abroad from Yeshiva University in New York.

On 12 March 2011, two students entered Mr Reitblat’s room in John Burnett Hall, after a night of drinking, in order to talk to Mr Reitblat’s roommate. One of the students, Paul Donnachie, told Mr Reitblat that Israel was a terrorist state and that the flag of Israel was a terrorist symbol. He then unbuttoned his trousers, removed a pubic hair and rubbed it on the flag. Later, Mr Donnachie posted on Facebook that Mr Reiblat was a Zionist.

Having been initially reluctant to speak out, Mr Reitblat later went to the police and accused the two men of racism by insulting the flag of Israel.

Mr Reitblat told the St Andrews Citizen: “Full of anger and sadness, I was reluctant to speak to the police and University authorities the morning after I was assaulted. I was frightened of exposing myself to scrutiny and worried it would affect my studies and personal life.

“I realised, however, that by doing nothing it set a precedent for such repugnant behaviour. I couldn’t sit idly by and let bigotry flourish.”

During his defence, Mr Donnachie argued that his actions were a legitimate form of protest. Outside the court, he was supported by around 50 pro-Palestine supporters.

Mr Reitblat told the Citizen: “After the conviction I was satisfied that justice was served and that such bigotry wasn’t tolerated in Scotland. Despite what happened to me, I look back with fond memories.

“The crime committed against me was taken seriously by the authorities. I applaud the efforts of the University, the police and the courts.”

Mr Donnachie was found guilty of a racist breach of the peace and was ordered to do 150 hours of community service and pay Mr Reitblat £300 in compensation. Following the conviction he was expelled from the University of St Andrews.

Reporting a hate crime can help to prevent acts of hate happening to others and help to stop discriminatory behaviour or abuse motivated by prejudice. Crimes can include habitual taunting, vandalism, online bullying and physical violence.

More than 4,000 racially aggravated charges of hate crime were reported in 2012-13. Crimes relating to religion, disability and sexual orienta- tion saw significant rises.

To report incidents of hate crime call the police on 101, or 999 in an emergency.

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