Jim Murphy: Stop blaming British Jews for what happens in Israel

I’m a Catholic but no-one blames me for Vatican decisions, says Scottish Secretary

By Martin Bright, March 4, 2010
Election fight: Jim Murphy

Election fight: Jim Murphy

Jim Murphy has had it with the "you people" argument about British Jews and Israel.

The Secretary of State for Scotland, a former chair of Labour Friends of Israel, could not be more clear about his views on people who say they should be held to account for Israeli actions.

He said: "I find it soul-destroying when I hear folk writing to the papers or calling in on the radio to ask what are British Jews doing about this, what are 'you people' doing about that?

"There is a kind of mind-numbing stupidity which says British Jews are somehow responsible for what happens in Israel. As a Catholic, I'm not responsible for the actions of a president of a country anywhere in the world who happens to share my faith. I don't even get blame, good or bad, for what happens in the Vatican."

He emphasised that Israel itself must take some responsibility for its bad press. "I think Israel could do better. Even when its case is very strong, it can be poor in its argument and clumsy in its communications. And it could do a lot better job across the UK - including in Scotland."

One way would be to avoid concentrating its efforts on Westminster. "Israel, for understandable reasons, concentrates its argument in London when it comes to these big diplomatic issues. But Britain exists beyond London."

Mr Murphy faces a tough fight in his East Renfrewshire constituency at the next election. Scottish BNP leader Gary Raikes has announced he will stand. The area, which has Scotland's largest Jewish community and its second largest Muslim community, was an obvious target for the neo-fascist party.

The campaign has already turned nasty. The BNP doctored a picture to make the Scottish Secretary look like Hitler. "I've already apologised to the Jewish community for bringing this guy into our community at the election."

Elsewhere, Mr Murphy is concerned that his opponents in the SNP have been prepared to make an accommodation with radical Islam to win the key seats such as Glasgow Govan (currently held by Labour veteran Mohammad Sarwar) and Glasgow Central, which will be contested for Labour by Mr Sarwar's son, Anas.

He notes that the SNP "have got themselves into some interesting company" with its generous funding of the Scottish Islamic Foundation.

The Foundation is headed by Osama Saeed, the SNP's candidate in Glasgow Central. Mr Saeed is a former spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain, which supports the military struggle of Hamas against the Israeli state.

Mr Murphy played down talk of serious tension between the Muslim and Jewish communities in Scotland, adamant that it was no worse than in the rest of the country.

He spoke of two constituents, one Muslim and one Jewish, who wanted to take him to task about the state of the roads. He found himself at the Jewish man's house discussing the issue. Sky News was on in the background reporting the latest development in the Middle East.

"With their backs to the telly, they were complaining about the holes in the road. And I was thinking: 'don't turn round'.

"This Muslim guy, whose family is from Pakistan, and this Jewish guy, whose family were originally from central Eastern Europe, they have views, but it's not their squabble. They were on the same side against me about the hole in the road."

Was the Scottish Secretary being complacent about the forces of intolerance working to drive a series of wedges between the various communities in Scotland? Perhaps. But if he wants to put an end to the divisive "you people" rhetoric that afflicts all sides, he will have to draw attention away from the conflict in the Middle East during the election campaign and focus on practical problems - such as how Labour intends to fix the holes in Glasgow's roads.

Last updated: 4:57pm, March 4 2010