SCoJeC Director Ephraim Borowski was part of a delegation of communal organisations that met Angus Robertson MP, the Leader of the SNP group in the UK Parliament, in the House of Commons.
Mr Robertson was accompanied by Kirsten Oswald, MP for East Renfrewshire, whose constituency is home to around 40% of Scotland’s Jews, and the delegation, led by Sir Mick Davis, Chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, also included Mark Gardner, Director of Communications of the Community Security Trust, Gillian Merron, Chief Executive of the Board of Deputies, Karen Pollock, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, and Debbie Fox, Vice-Chair of Jewish Care.
Ephraim began by thanking the MPs for the meeting, and observing that there are Jewish people in every constituency in Scotland, but they may be invisible to officialdom and socially isolated because they have nothing Jewish locally to belong to. Referring to SCoJeC’s Government-recent inquiry into What’s Changed about being Jewish in Scotland, he said this is evidence of the degree of anxiety, vulnerability, and alienation amongst members of the Community, with many people telling us that they now find it difficult to think of anything good about being Jewish in Scotland. However, the First Minister’s commitment to making Jewish people feel comfortable in Scotland is greatly appreciated, as is the sympathetic consideration that the Scottish Government has given to the Community’s concerns about a wide range of issues from divorce law to education, from health and welfare provisions to hate crime. Recognising the constitutional quirk that Mr Robertson and his colleagues can influence these matters in England but not in Scotland, Ephraim emphasised that the principles and concerns are the same, even if the legislation is different.
Mick Davis then spoke about the centrality of Israel to Jewish identity, and explained why attempts to delegitimise it – as opposed to fair criticism – give cover to other forms of antisemitism. In particular he referred to the situation in some Scottish local authorities and universities, where the atmosphere is so hostile that some students have abandoned their studies. In reply, Angus Robertson acknowledged the findings of SCoJeC’s inquiry, especially about the spike of antisemitic incidents after the war in Gaza, and reiterated the Scottish Government’s support for a two-state solution, and its “unambiguous opposition to boycotts”.
Mark Gardner said that the CST joins SCoJeC for their regular meetings with the Scottish Government Community Safety Unit, which had funded SCoJeC’s inquiry. He said that he often held up the UK, and especially Police Scotland, as an example of best practice in dealing with hate crime, and antisemitism in particular. He explained that demonisation of Israel implies that it is not to be treated as an equal member of the international community, and that the fact that members of the Community continue to talk about local authorities flying the flag of only one side during the conflict shows how vulnerable they still feel.
Karen Pollock welcomed the support of the Scottish Government, and in particular of the First Minister, for Holocaust education and for Scottish pupils to visit Auschwitz, but she cautioned that support for these projects should not be used as cover for disregarding the concerns of the Jewish Community. Debbie Fox spoke about the work of Jewish Care, and mentioned the diversity of their staff – “there are more Muslims than Jews caring for Jews” – but expressed concern that local authority budgets do not allow for the cost of kosher food. Mick Davis mentioned the work being done by World Jewish Relief to support Syrian refugees, and their pilot project in Bradford to improve their employability.
Gillian Merron rounded off the meeting by presenting Mr Robertson with a copy of the Jewish Manifesto for the recent Scottish Parliament Election which had been prepared by SCoJeC, the Board, and the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council, which she said represented the consensus in the Community on a wide range of issues. She welcomed East Renfrewshire Council’s support for a new building for Scotland’s only Jewish school on a joint campus with a Catholic school, and said that the Community looks to the SNP to continue to make it possible to follow a Jewish way of life.