SCoJeC Director Ephraim Borowski met Ian Blackford MP, the new Leader of the SNP group in the UK Parliament, in the House of Commons, along with representatives of other communal organisations.
Mr Blackford was accompanied by Joanna Cherry QC, MP for Edinburgh South West, who speaks on Justice and Home Affairs for the SNP in the Commons. The other members of the delegation were Gillian Merron, Chief Executive of the Board of Deputies, David Delew, Chief Executive of the Community Security Trust, Peter Speirs, the Scottish official of the Jewish Leadership Council, and Joel Salmon, Parliamentary Offıcer of the Board of Deputies.
Gillian opened the meeting by thanking the MPs for their time, and explaining the role of the Board of Deputies as the umbrella representative body of the UK Jewish Community, adding that there are Jewish people in every constituency in Scotland. Ephraim spoke about the role of SCoJeC making representations to the Scottish Government on all the day-to-day issues affecting the Community that are devolved to the Scottish Parliament, such as family law, education, and hate crime, and said that although the legislative nuts and bolts may be different, the issues are the same for the Scottish and UK parliaments. He also spoke about the work SCoJeC does to support Jewish people and build a sense of community in remote areas such as Mr Blackford's constituency of Ross, Cromarty, and Skye.
David Delew referred to the continuing rise in the number of antisemitic incidents, which could not be explained just by better reporting, especially as there had been no particular trigger incidents in the past two years. He described the CST's excellent relationship with both SCoJeC and Police Scotland, and commended them for acting more quickly and decisively than English police forces. Ian Blackford reiterated the Scottish Government's policy of zero tolerance for hate crime, and asked how the increase could be explained.
In reply, Ephraim said SCoJeC had evidence from in its Government-funded inquiry into What's Changed about being Jewish in Scotland, of anxiety, vulnerability, and alienation amongst members of the Community, which 80% of respondents attributed to the toxic atmosphere created by hyperbolic anti-Israel rhetoric. Peter Speirs developed this theme, referring to the evidence that 93% of the Community say that Israel forms part of their identity as Jews, and adding that much of the language used about Israel crosses the line into antisemitism, and that unfortunately a small number of MSPs feed this with their obsessive tabling of motions in Parliament. Ian Blackford reiterated the SNP's commitment to a two-state solution and said they are "desperate to be a force for a positive outcome".
Although Joanna Cherry was very critical of aspects of Israeli policy on the West Bank, she wanted to see the promise of two states in the Balfour Declaration fulfilled, and condemned violence against Israeli citizens. Both MPs were horrified to hear of the attempt to eject the Chair of SCoJeC from a discussion about antisemitism in Scotland at the Cross-Party Group on Palestine, and agreed that there had been a change in political discourse that opened a space for hate speech against the Jewish Community. She added that Scotland has enough problems with secratianism, without antisemitism being added to the list of "Scotland's shames".
As the meeting ended both MPs expressed interest in further engagement with the Jewish Community in Scotland, and Ephraim extended an open invitation to attend SCoJeC events around Scotland.
Following the meeting, Ephraim Borowski, Director of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, said:
"We are very grateful to Ian Blackford and Joanna Cherry for making the time to meet us, and to hear about the issues that matter to Jewish people both in Scotland and the rest of the UK. We very much welcome their interest in learning more about the Jewish Community of Scotland, and their commitment and that of the SNP and the Scottish Government to tackling antisemitism in all its forms. We look forward to welcoming them to our events and to engaging with them and their colleagues to help build a safer and more welcoming Scotland for all its people."