Middle East expert Rowan Laxton, 47, was watching TV reports of the Israeli attack on Gaza as he used an exercise bike in a gym.
Stunned staff and gym members allegedly heard him shout: 'F**king Israelis, f**king Jews'. It is alleged he also said Israeli soldiers should be 'wiped off the face of the earth'.
His rant reportedly continued even after he was approached by other gym users.
After a complaint was made to police, Mr Laxton was arrested for inciting religious hatred through threatening words and behaviour and bailed until late next month.
The maximum penalty for inciting religious hatred is a seven-year prison term or a fine or both.
Now, if a diplomat is unable to watch the news without bursting into a venomous and profane tirade about some national or ethnic group, then I think his superiors ought to worry about whether he can competently represent the nation.
But criminal charges? Please. Laxton wasn't addressing a mob. There was no likelihood of imminent violence as a result of his explosion. In fact, the available evidence is that people were offended and asked him to stop. And now he will be widely shunned and ridiculed and will lose all credibility as a diplomat and have to get a job at the BBC's Middle East desk. That's exactly the right sort of consequence for this sort of speech — response speech. Charging him criminally for hateful speech — when that hateful speech has no rational connection to imminent lawlessness — does nothing but threaten to transform this gym-rat lout into some sort of martyr. Fire him (because such conduct shows him unsuited to diplomacy and useless as a representative), roundly condemn him, humiliate him socially. But prosecute him for words? Nonsense.
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