SCoJeC Council members were joined by more than a dozen members of the local community at their quarterly meeting in Edinburgh today.
In addition to the regular business, the meeting was addressed by two guest speakers – Gillian Merron, the new Chief Executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and Superintendent Ross Aitken, the new head of the national Safer Communities Department of Police Scotland. The meeting also confirmed the co-option of Howard Gordon, a Glasgow solicitor, as Hon Treasurer, discussed SCoJeC’s response to the recent large increase in antisemitic incidents in Scotland, discussed how the Referendum result and further devolution
might affect SCoJeC's work and its relationship with the Boardand commended Fiona Frank and her team on a series of hugely successful outreach projects culminating in a seven-stop Klezmer tour of Scotland.
Supt Aitken told the meeting that it is important for Police Scotland not only to send messages of support, but to look the community in the eye and hear their concerns. He explained that Safer Communities is a national unit charged with addressing hate crime, but they work closely with the Community Inspectors within each of Police Scotland's 14 territorial Divisions, which helps them address the different challenges in rural areas and the central belt. He also told the meeting that he is concerned by the under-reporting of hate crime, especially disability-related abuse, and stressed that it is important to report all incidents, even if they seem insignificant, because that may help the police to identify patterns.
47 antisemitic incidents were reported between July and the beginning of October, but Supt Aitken stressed that this is not the norm, and offered reassurance that the police will do what they can to mitigate them. He was pleased to be able to report a reduction in reported incidents during the last few weeks. Most of the 47 reports related to abuse of social media, and, as Supt Aitken told the meeting, “bedroom radicals fire and forget” without feeling any responsibility for their actions, often not realising that they leave a trail that police can follow back to them. To date there have been 9 arrests, and a total of 30 people have been reported to the Crown for prosecution, and Supt Aitken emphasised the importance of getting the message across that such conduct is not acceptable, and that people can't hate with impunity.
Speaking after only three months as Board of Deputies Chief Executive, Gillian Merron said she had a personal interest in communities outwith London, because it was in Lincoln, which she represented as an MP for 13 years, that she rediscovered her own connection with the Jewish community. She took up her post at the outbreak of the Gaza war, which threw everything into sharp focus. This had been Israel’s longest ever conflict, and local fallout, including calls to boycott Israeli products, has affected the UK Jewish community.
The role of the Board as a representative body sounds simple, but that belies the vast range of opinions and interests that it has to balance, and these were difficult waters for a newcomer to navigate. The Board is the 'go-to' address for Government, and it was in contact with politicians every day to explain the impact on the community, how Jewish people were feeling, and how political leaders could help; as a result the Government position remained absolutely steadfast throughout the conflict.
But crises can’t be dealt with in a bubble, which is why, Ms Merron explained, the Board has set out its “Jewish manifesto” seeking 10 commitments from candidates in the 2015 UK General Election on issues that matter to the Jewish community. She undertook that the Board will work with SCoJeC on a similar document in advance of the 2016 Scottish elections, and concluded that since “the Board can't do everything, and SCoJeC can’t do everything, we are, to coin a phrase, better together”.