Displaying a tartan kippah won't stop this hatred. Scottish politicians must act now

November 24, 2016 23:22

Chanan Reitblat's name lives long in my memory.

This week marks exactly five years since he explained to me how he had been "humiliated" when a fellow student at St Andrews University forced his way into a university dorm, rubbed his genitals and proceeded to wipe his hands on Chanan's Israeli flag pinned to the bedroom wall.

The incident, which rightly led to a conviction for racially aggravated behaviour, was seen as one of the lowest points for Jewish students - and indeed the wider Jewish community - in Scotland.

Two years ago, I accompanied Daniel Taub - the then Israeli Ambassador - to Edinburgh University. Security arrangements as he met international politics students were so tight you would have been forgiven for thinking Barack Obama was the guest speaker.

At the same campus in 2011, I had witnessed Mr Taub's predecessor, Ron Prosor, battle to speak to students despite nine protesters staging a silent protest in front of him.

He had turned up at the university's prestigious McEwan Hall three weeks after his diplomat colleague Ismail Khaldi was mobbed by activists who interrupted his speech.

It hardly came as a surprise when claims were later made that Jewish students were quitting their Scottish university courses in despair and Jewish Societies had been left decimated.

I recalled these ugly scenes last week when viewing the images from Celtic Park, home of the Scottish football champions, as they played the first leg of their Champions League qualifier against Hapoel Be'er Sheva.

Hapoel's players - including Arab and Christian Israelis - were "welcomed" by Celtic supporters waving thousands of Palestinian flags. Perhaps they were left over from the stock ordered by the councils of Edinburgh and Glasgow to fly above their city halls during the last Gaza conflict.

On the same day, Nazi salutes were reported outside the International Shalom Festival, a day-long celebration of Israel at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Such high-profile incidents have a significant impact on Scottish Jews, but are they truly indicative of the general scene north of the border?

Possibly. Throughout 2015, my colleagues regularly reported the community's concerns, both political and social.

Paul Monaghan, Scottish National Party MP, was forced to apologise last September for posting an antisemitic tweet. Sandra White, his MSP colleague, did the same two months later.

Nicola Sturgeon, their party leader, has been at the forefront of efforts to convince Scottish Jews they need not fear a rise in political antisemitism.

She has been a regular visitor to communities in Glasgow and Edinburgh, offering a message of "solidarity".

"There is absolutely, emphatically not" a culture of antisemitism in the Scottish Parliament, Ms Sturgeon told one shul audience.

That parliament held its first debate on a pro-Israel motion earlier this year, but it was, inevitably, hijacked by Green and SNP MSPs urging cultural boycotts and throwing around accusations of "apartheid".

Conservative MSPs on a delegation to Israel earlier this month lobbied for direct flights between the two countries in an effort to strengthen ties.

Angus Robertson, the SNP's Westminster leader who displays a tartan kippah in his office, has also expressed his dismay at rising Jew-hate.

But otherwise it is slim pickings for any positive action. These gestures are not enough.

Ms Sturgeon, Mr Robertson and their colleagues need to do far more if they are to reassure Scottish Jews they are serious about turning around a worsening situation.

Scotland's First Minister must, at the very least, order her Parliament to carry out an immediate, independent inquiry into antisemitism in her country.

November 24, 2016 23:22

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