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Pro-Israel lawyer's plan to appeal against sanctions is derailed

BDS protesters [Twitter]
Demonstrators supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement [Twitter]

A Scottish lawyer's crowdfunding appeal to fight sanctions imposed on him for smearing a pro-Palestinian group appears to have hit a brick wall. Matthew Berlow, a prominent figure in Glasgow Friends of Israel, was fined £1,750 and ordered to undergo diversity training for describing the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign as "scummy racists".

Berlow decided to challenge the Scottish Law Society's punishment and turned to social media to raise funds for his legal battle. However, following numerous complaints made to JustGiving, it now appears that his fundraising efforts have been cancelled.

Glasgow Friends of Israel praised the lawyer's initiative. It boasted on 24 October that 84 per cent of Berlow's target of £4,000 had been raised in just three days, but that claim now appears to have been withdrawn. Attempts to reach Berlow for a comment or explanation have so far drawn a blank.

"A few people wrote to the crowd-funder organisation and complained about the attempt to raise money to fight the legal case," explained Scottish PSC co-founder Mick Napier. "We understand the account was closed down. I'm not sure if Berlow has undergone his diversity training yet."

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To rub salt into the wound, Napier pointed out that compensation awarded to the complainant in the case regarding the original abuse, Dr Karolin Hijazi, has already been pledged to Scottish PSC to help fund its Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns. "In other words, Berlow will be contributing to our work, albeit indirectly."

After the October verdict, a defiant Berlow told Glasgow Friends of Israel that he needed to raise £4,000 to cover the costs of the original fine and his planned appeal. He added that he could have to cover all the costs if he is unsuccessful and be struck off as a lawyer if he failed to pay.

"I want to concentrate on getting this appeal right, and I don't want to be worried about the finance of it," he told the pro-Israel group. "I wouldn't want to jeopardise my practising certificate… I'm not a wealthy lawyer; I'm just a Legal Aid lawyer. I don't have much dough [money]."

The Glasgow lawyer found himself in hot water after he responded to a Facebook event organised by Scottish PSC to protest against the sale of Dead Sea products in an Aberdeen shopping centre. "You simply found a soft Jewish target to aim your bile at," he said, before adding that the group consists of "scummy racists, bullies and cowards."

The Scottish PSC had organised a series of boycott events protesting against the Jericho Skin Care stall owned by Nissan Ayalon in Glasgow, and later in Aberdeen when he moved his outlet there.

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After Hijazi complained about the lawyer's abusive language, the Scottish Law Society ordered Berlow to pay the fine plus £100 to the pro-Palestine campaigner who also lectures at the University of Aberdeen's Institute of Dentistry. Berlow's response was to describe Hijazi as a "snowflake" and a "thin-skinned wannabe social justice warrior", who should "stick to pulling teeth." He later told the Jewish Chronicle, "If she's offended by me calling this organisation racist, she must be very thin-skinned."

The diversity training order particularly annoyed Berlow who is married to a Muslim woman. He claimed that his outlook on life is diverse and he believes in a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

The Law Society of Scotland concluded that Berlow had used "derogatory language… damaging to the reputation of both the profession as a whole and of the individual solicitor concerned." It would seem that Berlow couldn't stop digging a hole for himself, though, for the Society judged the written defence of his original actions to be "derogatory and aggressive".

The lawyer was found guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct and ordered to pay Hijazi compensation on top of the fine. She said that she found Berlow's comments "particularly disturbing, having campaigned against racism, discrimination and bigotry all my life."

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After the hearing, veteran campaigner Mick Napier said that Scottish PSC "stands foursquare for Palestinian rights and opposes anti-Semitism and vile Holocaust denial, which we consider to be no less repulsive than Berlow's denying that the Palestinian people suffered brutal ethnic cleansing by Zionist militias in 1948 and subsequently."

He was particularly critical of Berlow's description of Dr Karolin Hijazi as a "thin-skinned… wannabe social justice warrior" and a "snowflake". The latter, he noted, is a term popular with US white supremacists and "the extreme right generally to attack those who stand up to them."

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