SCoJeC was pleased to arrange a meeting between the European Commission Co-ordinator on Combatting Antisemitism and a representative group from the Scottish Jewish Community.
Katharina von Schnurbein, who was appointed in December 2015, met SCoJeC Director Ephraim Borowski and Vice-Chair Micheline Brannan along with Paul Morron, President of the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council, Rabbi Yossi Bodenheim, Jewish Student Chaplain, Brianna Sommer, President of Edinburgh University Jewish Students Society, and Itamar Nitzan, representative of the Israeli community in Scotland on SCoJeC’s Council.
Ephraim described the Jewish community in Scotland, and drawing on evidence from SCoJeC’s Scottish Government funded research projects in 2012 and 2014 about Being Jewish in Scotland and What's Changed About Being Jewish in Scotland, explained that there has been an increase in antisemitism following recent events in the Middle East. Rabbi Bodenheim and Brianna described their own experiences of antisemitism on and around campus, and Itamar explained that many Israelis find Scotland a hostile environment, and feel very vulnerable here. There are also concerns that, unlike the UK Government, the Scottish Government did not make an unequivocal statement condemning antisemitism until pressed to do so, and although the situation has improved since SCoJeC raised these concerns directly with the First Minister, recent more positive moves do not change the fact that there is a general anti-Israel sentiment in Scotland, and that this is often used as a mask for antisemitism.
Ms von Schnurbein explained that she had been appointed following the EU's first Annual Colloquium on Fundamental Rights, hosted by First Vice-President Frans Timmermans and Justice Commissioner Věra Jourová in October 2015. This brought together local, national, and EU policy makers, together with civil society organisations, religious and community leaders, and representatives from the fields of education, work, and media, who had identified underlying reasons for the significant rise in antisemitic and anti-Muslim incidents, and adopted a number of strategies to address this trend, including the creation of her new position.
The European Commission already engages with the Jewish community at European level, with activities such as Chaunkah celebrations, synagogue visits, and meetings with the Union of European Rabbis, and Ms von Schnurbein asked whether there were additional ways in which it could support the Jewish community in Scotland.
Commenting after the meeting, Ephraim said: "This was very useful meeting, and it was encouraging to hear how seriously the European Commission is taking the problems of antisemitism in particular and religious hatred in general. We were all agreed that public engagement and support by politicians for the Community should be more visible at all levels – European, national, and local, and that there is a need for a single legally enforceable definition of antisemitism."
The following day, SCoJeC Vice-Chair Micheline Brannan joined representatives of other faith and interfaith groups for a discussion with Ms von Schnurbein of the place of religion in the European Community. Vice President Timmermans had said that people cannot take off their religions like a coat, the Commission had recently held a colloquium on 'Living together and disagreeing well'. The meeting also discussed the current refugee crisis, and in particular the new Scottish interfaith initiative, Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees, in which SCoJeC is playing an active part.