St Andrews University
The University of St Andrews has experienced some notable incidents of anti-Semitism in recent years. A charity ball organised for 26 April 2013 by the University of St Andrews’ Jewish Society, which was raising funds for seven Israeli charities, had to be moved following threats made to the venue. The St Andrews Golf Hotel received threatening emails and calls, and the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) called for hotel to retract its support, forcing a change of venue. The SPSC was particularly opposed to the ball raising funds for the Jewish National Fund and Friends of the Israel Defence Forces, referring to support for these charities as “fundraising for apartheid and ethnic cleansing”. The organisation We Are All Hana Shalabi, named for a woman accused of being a member of Islamic Jihad, also supported a protest against the event. Furthermore, anti-Semitic comments were posted on Facebook, including one comment that read, “Friday we send them into hell.” The ball was then moved to another location, and guarded by plain-clothes police officers.
The SPSC has been previously been involved in an incident of anti-Semitism at the University of St Andrews, when it defended a student who was charged and found guilty of racially abusing a Jewish student in 2011. In March 2011, Paul Donnachie defiled an Israeli flag hanging in the bedroom of Chanan Reitblat, by putting his hands down his trousers then rubbing them on the flag. He called Mr Reitblat “a terrorist” during the incident, which Mr Reitblat described as leaving him feeling “violated and devastated”. In sentencing Mr Donnachie, Sheriff Charles Macnair QC described the incident as “racist” and highlighted that the most serious aspect of the incident was that Mr Donnachie labelled Mr Reitblat as a terrorist based on the latter’s association with Israel, stating that it is “the direct equivalent of those who suggest that all Muslims are terrorists”. The SPSC described Mr Donnachie’s conviction as a “travesty of a trial”. St Andrews expelled Mr Donnachie following his conviction.
Centre for Syrian Studies
The Centre for Syrian Studies (CSS) at the University of St Andrews was founded in 2006 with the help of a £105,000 donation from British-Syrian businessman Ayman Asfari, which came shortly after university officials approached Sami al-Khiyami, the Syrian Ambassador to the UK. Although the university has since denied that al-Khiyami “arranged” the donation, Professor Raymond Hinnebusch, Director of the CSS, has written that the Centre “would have remained a dream except for the intervention of … Dr Sami al-Khiyami … [who] made the decisive breakthrough in finding a philanthropist [for us].” In recognition of the role he played, al-Khiyami was appointed to the CSS Board of Advisers, along with Fawaz Akhras, father-in-law and close confidante to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
In 2008, the CSS sponsored a conference in Damascus, where the topics of discussion included “the ongoing negative role of the US” and “the heritage of [former Syrian dictator] Hafez al-Assad”. A list of recommended publications on the CSS website includes a number of articles defending the Assad regime, promoting anti-Israel conspiracy theories and attacking Syrian reformists. One former Associate Fellow of the CSS, Britta Froelicher, was discovered to be one of two contributors to the fraudulent blog of a fictitious Syrian activist who rarely criticised the Assad regime but often attacked Israel.
Institute for Iranian Studies
The Institute for Iranian Studies (IIS) at the University of St Andrews was founded in 2006 with the help of a £100,000 donation from Iran’s former Deputy Foreign Minister and the former Iranian Ambassador to France, Sadegh Kharazi. According to the University of St Andrews’ website, the IIS “was made possible” by this “generous benefaction”.
The Institute was formally launched by former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, to the consternation of many Iranian exiles, human rights groups and students at the university. Despite the protests, the visit went ahead, during which Khatami was also awarded an honorary doctorate by the university.