Friday, July 25, 2008

How blaming Israel can get you off in a court of law

This is one of the most worrying examples of anti-Israeli bias I have ever come across.

Last month, six men were acquitted in a Belfast court of causing more than £300,000 of damage to an office belonging to an American arms manufacturer in Derry, Northern Ireland, in August 2006 (one was convicted of theft of two computer discs).

They had broken into Raytheon’s building, destroyed its computer mainframe, damaged PCs, thrown documents out the window, and barricaded themselves inside the building for eight hours.

The Israel connection?

The men – actually nine of them, who became known as the “Raytheon nine”, although only six were charged – claimed that "weapons manufactured by Raytheon were being used by Israel to bomb Lebanon" during the Second Lebanon War that summer.

And this was apparently a good enough defence for the jury.

According to the BBC Northern Ireland website, the company, which does make missiles, “has said its Derry operation is limited to software development and not the physical manufacture of weapons.”
Nevertheless, as one of the defendants, Eamonn McCann explained outside the courthouse,

"The jury have accepted that we were reasonable in our belief that the Israeli Defence Forces were guilty of war crimes in Lebanon in the summer of 2006. The action we took was intended to have, and did have, the effect of hampering or delaying the commission of war crimes."

So now we are in a bizarre, and frightening situation, where causing significant damage to another’s property is all right – as long as it is meant to hurt Israel. Exactly when did this become an acceptable legal defence? And at what point did the Palestinian / Arab narrative become so dominant and such a norm, on these isles, that Israel committing “war crimes” is accepted, in a court of law, as a "reasonable belief"?

Unfortunately, though the case appeared to receive some local coverage, it never made the national news and really only came to light this month, when the Journalist, the magazine of the National Union of Journalists, ran an interview with Mr McCann. (This week it was picked up by Mark Steel of the Independent, who wrote in support of the defendants.)

Which brings me to my second point. Not only is Mr McCann – the only member of the so-called Raytheon 9 who was actually convicted of anything – a member of the NUJ national executive, he had the support of the union’s Irish Executive Council.

It is unclear to me whether this means moral support or practical support. But either way, is this really an appropriate stance for the union to take? And should this man, now convicted of theft and sentenced to a 12-month conditional discharge, really be representing other journalists?

I leave you with the final words of his statement outside the court:

“We have not denied or apologised for what we did. Personally speaking, and I believe I speak for all of us, it was the best thing I have ever done in my life.”

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