SCoJeC Vice Chair Micheline Brannan participated in a panel discussion at Limmud 2015 about “What Devolution for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland means for the Jewish Community”. Wales was represented by Cardiff-based Vice-President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Sheila Gewolb, and Northern Ireland by Steven Jaffe of the Belfast Jewish Community, who is also Grass-roots Consultant for the Board.
Scotland is the only one of the devolved countries to have its own national Jewish representative organisation, and Micheline described how the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities was set up at the time of Devolution in 1999, to provide a single representative organisation that could speak with democratic legitimacy on behalf of the entire Jewish Community of Scotland to the Scottish Parliament and Government, other public bodies, and to Scottish civic society in general. Since the Scottish Parliament’s wide legislative powers give it control of many issues affecting the Jewish community, including, amongst others, marriage, education, death certification and burial, hate crime, and restitution of art looted during the Holocaust, it is important to engage with them on a wide range of issues. Micheline emphasised the importance of the relationships that the Director, Ephraim Borowski, and other staff have built with Ministers and MSPs in order to ensure that the sometimes unified, and sometimes diverse, voice of the community is heard. She also highlighted the findings of SCoJeC’s recent What’s Changed about Being Jewish in Scotland inquiry, which were referred to by the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, in a public meeting with the Jewish Community, when she said, “I don’t want to be the First Minister, or even live in, a country where Jewish people want to leave or hide their identity”.
The lively discussion focused on the politics of independence and SCoJeC’s work to rebuild relationships with the Church of Scotland following the publication and adoption of Inheritance of Abraham? A report on the ‘promised land’, a document that, amongst other recommendations, called for the Church to “refute claims that scripture offers any peoples a privileged claim for possession of a particular territory”.
A negative focus on Israel is also a problem in Northern Ireland where, Steven Jaffe told the meeting, Israel looms large in the politics of Stormont because Unionists generally support Israel while most Nationalists support the Palestinians. This is a challenge for the remaining small Jewish community of only 80 people, which has to punch above its weight.
Sheila Gewolb commented that, like SCoJeC, the Welsh Jewish Community is also working to raise awareness of Judaism and Jewish people among the wider community.
Commenting on the event, Micheline said, "It was an honour to represent SCoJeC on this occasion, and I was glad to be able to strengthen our relationship with the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Communities in the other countries with devolved administrations."