First Minister Humza Yousaf invited SCoJeC representatives to a kosher breakfast at Bute House, his official residence, to discuss community tensions, the unprecedented increase in reported antisemitic incidents, and consequent huge increase in feelings of vulnerability and alienation in the Jewish Community, since the terrorist attack on Israel on 7th October, and the huge pro-Palestinian demonstrations that have followed throughout the UK.
SCoJeC Vice-Chair Tim Lovat, Director Ephraim Borowski, and External Engagement Manager Kirsty Robson told the First Minister that they had been very grateful for his participation at the Service of Solidarity for the victims and hostages in Giffnock Newton Mearns Synagogue, and his messages of condolence to the Cowen family on the murder of their son and brother. They acknowledged his personal concern for members of his wife's family who had been unable to leave Gaza for several weeks, and commented that the vast majority of members of the Jewish Community have family and close friends in Israel, so we all share concerns for innocent civilians caught up in the conflict.
Tim, who is also President of the Glasgow Jewish Rep Council, told the First Minister about some recent antisemitic incidents that have been reported to the Council, including messages holding "the Jews" in general responsible for actions of the Israeli government and military. He said that a Muslim community leader had told him about school children inciting their class-mates "to hate Jews", that some people are hiding their Jewish identity, for example by taking down their mezuzot, and that for the first time the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen had not paid their respects at the Cenotaph in Glasgow on Remembrance Day because they had been apprehensive about walking through George Square with a Magen-David-shaped wreath. Ephraim also gave the First Minister a dossier of incidents and reactions on campus that he had received from Jewish student representatives. When we last met him, the First Minister had asked how to encourage the large numbers of Jewish students now coming to Scotland to stay after they graduate, so he was very concerned to hear that some are now actively considering leaving to study elsewhere because of the hostility they face on campus,, and he reiterated his desire to attend a student gathering in the near future, and to host a round table with Jewish student leaders.
Because of the level of fear and anxiety caused by recent public statements by senior members of the SNP, Ephraim asked that more careful consideration be given to the language used in public statements, because people who are already fearful and on edge may not hear the nuances that are intended. In particular statements about civilian casualties in Gaza that do not acknowledge the casualties in Israel, or gloss over that fact that these are the direct consequence of the murder, rape, and torture of Israeli civilians by Hamas, are perceived as one-sided. Ephraim made the point that the word "some" is very underused, and as a result general statements are prone to be misinterpreted – most Jews are not Israelis, and Israelis are not the Israeli government, and similarly most Palestinians are not Hamas – but in the present context it is difficult not to interpret Palestinian flags and chants of "Jihad" as directed against Jewish people and the Jewish Community. We explained that the consensus in the Jewish Community is that calls for a ceasefire by Israel while Hamas continue to threaten to repeat the October 7th massacre are tantamount to enabling their genocidal antisemitism, and so cause significant concern. The First Minister reassured us that that is not his or the SNP's position, and we were able to agree that the difference between those calling for a "ceasefire" and those advocating "pauses" is semantic, and that what matters is ensuring that humanitarian aid is not misappropriated and reaches the civilians who desperately need it.
Recognising the importance of engaging directly with members of the community, the First Minister also undertook to follow the example of his predecessor and address a public meeting, ideally using hybrid technology to enable as wide a range of Jewish people from all over Scotland to participate.
The SCoJeC representatives also told the first Minister that synagogues had been advised to upgrade their physical security because of the current surge in antisemitic incidents but did not have sufficient resources to do so, and asked whether the Scottish Government could assist as the UK government has done. Similarly, SCoJeC itself is struggling to deliver its key objectives of representing and supporting Jewish people throughout Scotland, because so much of its resources have had to be diverted into emergency activities. The First Minister undertook to look into these concerns and assist if that is possible.