At the National Union of Students conference on April 25th, 2012 the Union of Jewish Students stall was defaced. Numerous stickers each bearing the slogan “Boycott Israel” were plastered over the stall. The majority of stickers were deliberately placed on the Star of David symbol, virtually eradicating it so that only the letters UJS could be read with the Star of David no longer properly visible.
How is such an incident to be approached? The fellow traveller (or, better, the useful idiot) would come up with the doped up campus theory that this is simply the manifestation of angst over geo-political concern on the micro-level.
He would probably add some sort of hoary line about this being a demonstration of “freedom of expression” and a legitimate political addition to vital debate through the use of postmodern guerrilla-esque tactics.
The apologist would argue that these are students just being silly students. He would refuse at that point to engage in a justification or discussion of the incident as he would be in full flow about issues and concerns in the Middle East and how this incident should be seen in isolation but in the “context” of much wider problems which all right-minded citizens should be concerned with.
After five minutes he would declare the conversation over without having once tried to understand how upsetting and distressing this incident would have been to Jewish students and the wider Jewish Community.
My grandmother, a cook with no formal education, would ironically have got it right at once. She was born in the1920s in Germany and came to England in 1938. She’d have seen it as a grotesque, disgusting and vile anti-Semitic attack committed under some absurd pretext.
She’d have known, instinctively, with the knack of realising when to get out, that the thugs and bullies who deface and damage stalls and symbols such as these are either anti-Semites, mindless morons or, worse, mindless moronic anti-Semites with just about enough vicious brainpower to know the hateful power of defacing historic symbolic representations of a faith.
Rather than engaging in a tedious and pointless debate trying to understand their motives and reasons she’d have called each one of them a “Dreck” pure and simple. (It’s a wonderful Yiddish word which I recommend you google-search). She’d be right. She’d have got “it”.
This is pure criminal behaviour. The Perpetrators of this act of vandalism have committed an offence of Criminal Damage under the Criminal Damage Act 1971 s. 1 by intentionally damaging property (a stall in this case) not belonging to them.
They’ve also committed, in possessing these stickers, an offence under s. 3, of possessing an article (stickers in this case) with intent to damage property not belonging to them. They have no real arguable “lawful excuse” although they’ll think of excuses for their behaviour and probably try and argue that a nineteen year old student in Leeds is guilty of dint of association of some sort of war criminality which they won’t be able to define.
I add this offence of criminal damage is racially aggravated as its demonstrates hostility towards a particular ethnic group seen by the way and style in which the stickers are placed, the stall on which the stickers are placed and the message conveyed not just by the stickers but the through the act of anonymous vandalism of the Star of David in particular.
They are also as a group (I assume this is not the actions of one loner) liable under current joint enterprise laws even if merely present through their encouraging or assisting others in putting the stickers on the stall’s surface.
In short, these individuals, if charged and convicted (I accept that is a very big “if”) should be treated as common criminals. That is as common, racially motivated criminals who, in the second decade of the twentieth first century, add to political debate in a western democracy by nothing more and nothing less than criminal behaviour.
Julian Hunt is a barrister and has been practicing law since 2005. He was a Crown Prosecutor and Senior Crown Prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service between 2008 and 2011 but now defends. He lives in South London