Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond was pressed on his Scottish National Party’s perceived lack of support for Israel when he addressed 200 Glasgow Jews last Thursday at Mearns Castle High School in Newton Mearns.
Mr Salmond had remarked that the Palestinians needed to be “more self-sustainable”, adding: “I am pessimistic on the current situation and believe that agreement between the parties is less likely now than eight years ago. There may have been a solution had [Yitzhak] Rabin lived.”
However, when an audience member asked why the SNP had not publicly backed Israel, he could respond only that “former SNP stalwarts such as Winnie Ewing and Willie McRae had strongly supported Israel’s cause”. He acknowledged that the current leadership had shown sympathy towards the Palestinian position.
Mr Salmond was on safer ground when he declared that “the Scottish government and East Renfrewshire Council had reached agreement on the provision of a Holocaust memorial to be inaugurated in January 2009”. The proposal is for a Holocaust centre to be established in Rouken Glen Park in Giffnock.
In the meeting, organised by the Glasgow Jewish Educational Forum, he also said that “immigration brings nothing but benefit to a country and our universities gain greatly from overseas students” — there are currently 40 Israeli students registered with Scottish universities.
Mr Salmond started his address by apologising for having to cancel the original date for the meeting and being unable to attend on a second occasion due to “being called to Westminster to vote on the European Referendum”.
Commenting that “free education was the fundamental part of the success of Scotland and Jewish communities throughout the world”, he paid tribute to Calderwood Lodge Jewish Day School, which he had recently visited. “The next generation of Scotland’s innovators may emerge from Calderwood.”
He went on to highlight Jews’ “large contribution to Scottish life. The Scottish government recognises the importance and distinction of the Scottish Jewish community and respects and values its history.”
He strongly recommended Scotland’s Jews, a soon-to-be published book by Dr Kenneth Collins, a former president of the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council and an authority on Scottish-Jewish history.