Scotland's Tory leader pays tribute to Balfour Declaration

Ruth Davidson described Israel as a "force for good".


Ruth Davidson paid tribute to Arthur Balfour as “another great Scottish Conservative” at the Board of Deputies annual dinner, going on to say that she was “pleased the UK government is recognising the centenary of the Balfour declaration.”

The Scottish Tory leader made her comments during a wide ranging conversation at the dinner last night, where she appeared in conversation with James Harding, the director of BBC News and Current Affairs. She had been due to be quizzed by Emily Maitlis, but the journalist had to cancel at the last minute due to a change in her broadcasting schedule. 

“I’ve welcomed to my own constituency the Shalom International Festival, which as well as celebrating Judaism, also invites performers over from Israel to make sure that the cultural exchange is there”, Ms Davidson said.
“We’ve seen a 60 per cent rise in trade between Scotland and Israel in the last 10 years – it’s now about £120 million a year – and these are the sorts of things we want to build on.

“But I also think it’s right and proper that those who do have a sphere to talk about international relations, like the Prime Minister, when she was speaking to Benjamin Netanyahu, talked about the unacceptability of building illegal settlements. 

“If you’re going to be a friend in the international community, you also have to be a critical friend. And I think an honest friend is worth much more than a sycophant.”

However, the Scottish Conservative leader went on to say that she was “pleased that the UK government is recognising another great Scottish Conservative – Balfour – and the Balfour Declaration, and has invited the premier  of Israel over for that. 

“We’re going to have a year of celebrations to talk about the Jewish homeland, and I think that’s a really positive way forward. 

"And I hope as well that perhaps from this November onwards [when the centenary of the Balfour Declaration will be marked], this year, will give us space in the public discourse to talk about how Israel is a force for good as a democratic country, which has a vibrant free press, that allows the sort of political debate that we take for granted, but citizens of all of its neighbours in the region don’t have that same luxury.”

Echoing comments made to the JC last week, Ms Davidson also paid tribute to how Scottish political parties had all shown a no-tolerance approach to antisemitism.
“In Scotland we have seen an issue, particularly with some of the Jewish community. We’ve seen some terrible things daubed on the side of a temple, we’ve seen a senior rabbi faced with people who were giving Nazi salutes as he went to a place of worship.

“One of the things I’m proud of in Scotland is that there is actually political leadership against this… you often see politicians kick lumps out of each other, but actually when it comes to stuff that matters, such as providing that sort of leadership, I actually think in Scotland we’ve done quite well. Because we’ve got a very small Jewish community – less than 6,000 – and it’s very concentrated, but it’s had some great champions from all the parties down the years.“

Jonathan Arkush, the Board president, used his speech to thank the many dignitaries from the religious and political spheres who were in attendance.
“Most of all, though, I want to thank you”, he told the audience.

“Without you there would be no Board of Deputies. We would not be able to serve our community, our community’s future, which is also your future. It is with enormous pride that I stand before you as elected president of the Board of Deputies for British Jews.

“It is an honour to speak forthrightly for our community on every relevant issue.”

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