SCoJeC Chair Micheline Brannan and Director Ephraim Borowski, along with Nicola Livingston, President of the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council and former SCoJeC Public Affairs Officer, held a wide-ranging and friendly meeting with Angela Constance MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities at the Scottish Parliament.
As the Parliamentary debate on the recent report of the Independent Advisory Group on Hate Crime, Prejudice, and Community Cohesion had just concluded, the meeting naturally began with that topic. Ephraim spoke about the findings of SCoJeC’s Scottish Government funded inquiry in 2014 into What’s Changed About Being Jewish in Scotland. This provided evidence of increased anxiety among Jewish people in Scotland about their safety, and in particular an unprecedented fear of identifying openly as Jewish. Although the level of actual incidents has reduced, the anxiety has not, and every week SCoJeC continues to receive reports of antisemitic incidents.
Micheline explained that much of the anxiety and distress arises from the fact that it has become impossible to hold any event with an Israeli speaker or performer without attracting a crowd of protesters that can be very intimidating. In 2014 an apolitical Israeli ‘hip hop opera’ was prevented from performing at the Fringe, and this year the Shalom Festival, which featured Israelis from the Druze, Palestinian, Samaritan, and Bedouin communities, was subject of a 12-hour demonstration that blocked the pavement, screamed abuse at anyone seeking access to the venue, and reduced children to tears. Ephraim referred to research evidence that more than 90% of Jewish people feel a strong affiliation for Israel, so that such activity is damaging for the Jewish community as a whole.
Nicola then spoke about the difficulties facing Jewish and Israeli students attending Scottish universities. Some students have faced abusive comments from lecturers and even failed their courses when their Jewish or Israeli identity becomes known, and several each year have decided not to study here or left without finishing their courses. When the First Minister met a group of twenty Jewish students last year, she said she was shocked by what she had heard.
The Cabinet Secretary said the impact of international events on the fears and concerns of minority communities had been referred to in the Independent Advisory Group’s report, and this had been discussed during that afternoon’s debate. She also stated that seeking to ban cultural events and targeting students were not things that the Scottish Government would seek to defend.
Nicola then moved on to talk about welfare issues affecting the Jewish community, and in particular the effect of funding pressures on the provision of culturally-sensitive welfare services, and especially residential care.
Commenting on the meeting, Chair of SCoJeC, Micheline Brannan said, “We were delighted with the warm welcome from the Cabinet Secretary, who made time for us after speaking at the Hate Crime debate. Our own discussion was highly topical in that context as the Jewish Community still feels anxious and afraid. The Cabinet Secretary recognised that the relentless targeting of Israeli events has an adverse effect on our community and she took particular note of the adverse effect on Jewish students of anti-Zionist campaigning at our universities. She also listened sympathetically to our concerns about how we can continue to provide culturally appropriate welfare services for an ageing and declining Jewish population. We look forward to meeting her again.”