A religious studies teacher from South Ayrshire has been reprimanded after posting an anti-Semitic comment online.  

Edward Sutherland, a teacher at Belmont Academy in Ayr, was found to have created a fake Facebook profile in the name of ‘Stevie Harrison’, with the aim of outing racists.

However, Sutherland, the Convenor of the Confederation of Friends of Israel Groups in Scotland, in his attempts to ensnare anti-Semites ended up sharing anti-Semitic posts and amplifying anti-Semitic tropes.

At a Fitness to Teach hearing conducted by the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTC), Sutherland admitted to posting a series of posts including such phrases as “F*** Israel”, “If I lose my job because some Zionist doesn’t like me supporting the people of Palestine, don’t worry about it. I’ll still have my dignity. The see you next Tuesday who complained won’t have. Rant over”, “I knew I’d seen that f***ing zio before. Tried to stitch up a good mate of mine. P***k. Free Palestine ya b*****d”, and “Looks like a certain Zio’s big nose is out of joint. Don’t worry Person B. You’re going to get what’s coming to you. I hear you’re in a lot of trouble. And that complaint’s going in.”

A witness in the hearing (named as Witness 2) told how they knew Sutherland through membership of pro-Israel advocacy groups such as Glasgow Friends of Israel (GFI).

A report of the hearing tells how the witness told how GFI members, including Sutherland, used false identities on social media to post material which would assist in identifying people who were committing hate crimes against the group.

The witness confirmed he would report matters and share information gleaned from the profiles with Police Scotland.

The report says that another witness (Witness 3), a solicitor, said that whilst the posts may look unpalatable, they were merely ‘role play’, written very carefully in order to appear anti-Israel but not anti-Semitic.

Sutherland, a teacher of 25 years, told the hearing he was committed to combating antisemiticism and had set up the Stevie Harrison account to help protect his friends. The GTC reports says Sutherland’s solicitor friend was having difficulties with an individual (Witness 1).

The report states: “He stated that from October 2018 to January 2019, the posts he made as SH were specific to seeking to deal with Witness 1. The teacher said that he had consulted with Witness 3 on a daily basis, taking on board his occasional suggestions as to content.”

It continues: “The teacher stated that the posts made by him on SH’s private Facebook page were visible only to those people whom SH ‘befriended’ as they appeared to be engaged in anti-Semitic activities. On that basis, the posts were made only for those intended recipients and to encourage them to view SH as a ‘fellow traveller’. He accepted that in principle it was not appropriate for a teacher to create a fake Facebook account to ‘entrap’ others under explanation that he had acted entirely defensively in order to protect his friends.”

The large majority of Sutherland’s Facebook posts as Stevie Harrison were not deemed to have been anti-Semitic by the GTC, with the report saying that most of the posts, whilst they could be deemed antizionist, they did not cross the threshold into antisemitism.

One post however, did cross that line, according to the report. The post “Looks like a certain Zio’s big nose is out of joint. Don’t worry Person B. You’re going to get what’s coming to you. I hear you’re in a lot of trouble. And that complaint’s going in.” was deemed to be anti-Semitic in that “Jewish people having big noses was widely accepted as an offensive trope which would be readily acknowledged as such by a reasonably informed member of the public. The Panel noted the direct link to Witness 3 as a Jewish person. The Panel was satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the remarks made were of an anti-Semitic nature.”

The panel on the GTC decided that it was in the public interest for Sutherland’s fitness to teach to be impaired, saying: “The panel considered that the public perception of the seriousness of the allegations would be high and that the public would consider the actions of the teacher as misconduct.

"The panel considered that having found one post to be anti-Semitic and that the others contained vulgar and unacceptable comments, there was an over-riding public interest in finding impairment of the teacher’s fitness to teach.

"The panel also determined that the seriousness of the conduct was such that a finding of impairment was needed to uphold proper professional standards, public confidence in the profession and in GTC Scotland as a regulator.”

The panel concluded that Sutherland should be reprimanded for nine months.