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Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (SCoJeC)
Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (SCoJeC)
Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (SCoJeC)

 

New First Minister’s
First Meeting with Community

15 May 2024

Barely a week after taking office as First Minister, John Swinney requested an urgent meeting with representatives of the Jewish Community to discuss the unprecedented increase in antisemitic incidents since last October. SCoJeC Chair Nicola Livingston and Director Ephraim Borowski, along with Glasgow Jewish Representative Council President Timothy Lovat and Edinburgh Jewish Student Society Chair Elie Glaser were delighted to accept his invitation to meet in St Andrew’s House on 15 May. 

Mr Swinney opened the meeting by expressing his revulsion at the horrific atrocities perpetrated by Hamas and others in southern Israel on 7th October, and and acknowledged the profoundly unsettling effect this and subsequent events have had on Jewish people living in Scotland. Nicola responded by telling the First Minister that there is a palpable level of fear in the community, the vast majority of whom have family or friends in Israel and so are directly affected by what happens there, and the intensity of their anxiety has been rising. Whereas in the past, levels of stress spiked following terrorist attacks but then gradually returned to previous levels, since the 2014 Gaza war that had not been the case, so that the effect of each successive incident is cumulative.

We explained why the regular large and aggressive pro-Palestinian demonstrations are so unsettling for Jewish people – they began immediately after the attack by Hamas and before any Israeli military response, so they can only be interpreted as support for an organisation that has shown that the call to massacre Jews in its Charter is not idle words. As a result, the level of anxiety and stress being experienced by many Jewish people is so high that there has been a need to set up psychological support services to help members of the community cope.

As regards physical security, Timothy commended the police for their support and reassurance which is greatly appreciated by the community. He said area commanders are in regular contact with their local communities and have increased their patrols at key sites in response to incidents elsewhere.

Mr Swinney was particularly keen to understand the impact on Jewish students, and Elie described a number of extremely disturbing incidents, some of which were unambiguously antisemitic, which were making life on campus intolerable for many. Some Jewish students had been forced out of their accommodation because other residents refused to share with Jews, and some had therefore left their courses. She said that whilst university authorities had listened to what was reported to them by Jewish students and their representatives, they seemed unable or unwilling to act in any decisive way to ensure Jewish students felt safe on campus, attending classes, and in university accommodation, often claiming to protect the protestors’ rights to free speech even when it crosses the line into explicit threats and intimidation.

The discussion then moved to other areas of SCoJeC’s work, and we told the First Minister about the new resources we have been creating for use in schools, youth clubs, etc, to help counter antisemitism and racism more generally by educating children and young people about Jewish people and Judaism. The aim of this work is “demystification”, so that even if they do not meet Jewish people when they are growing up, they would arrive at university, college, or the workplace with some level of knowledge and understanding. We also explained that SCoJeC, together with GJRC, had developed information sessions for local authority councillors and officials, to give them a clearer understanding of day-to-day issues that affect members of the Jewish community, as well as the effect of the continuing increase in the levels of antisemitic incidents and hate crimes. We told Mr Swinney that these briefing sessions have received excellent feedback, and we would like to roll them out further to other public and third sector bodies such as Trades Unions, Health Boards, and the media, but we lack the resources to do so.

Rounding up the meeting, the First Minister reiterated that he and his Government would not tolerate anti-Jewish hatred in Scotland, and he renewed the undertaking of his predecessors to meet again with Jewish student representatives early in the next academic year to review the situation on campus, and to address a public meeting of the community in the near future.

Commenting after the meeting, Mr Swinney said: “As First Minister, I want to play my part in strengthening relations and building cohesion within Scotland’s faith communities. I want to assure our Jewish communities that I am committed to tackling antisemitism, and working with them to do so.

SCoJeC Chair Nicola Livingston added: “We were very grateful to the new First Minister for taking the initiative to ask for a meeting so soon after his appointment, and we take that as a measure of how seriously he regards the current situation. We were reassured by his very obvious sympathy with the stress that is being experienced by members of the Jewish Community in Scotland because of events thousands of miles away that are beyond their control, and we look forward to the active assistance of his government to help Jewish people feel fully welcome and better integrated in Scottish society.

 

   
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