A member of the Scottish Parliament has said the country’s Jewish community has “started to feel under the threat” from rising anti-Zionism and antisemitism
Jackson Carlaw, Conservative MSP for West Scotland, said: “It’s true that MSPs do commemorate the Holocaust. Sometimes I think some think they have ticked a box when they do that and are free the rest of the year to be deeply critical about Israel, and at times to allow that anti-Israel expression of view to cross into an antisemitic expression of view, and not see the difference between them.”
He added: “The community has started to feel under threat again.
“I don’t want the future Jewish community to feel no longer welcome in Scotland or that they have to follow through on discussions about whether it is time for them to leave.”
The Conservative MSP for West Scotland said he aimed to tackle anti-Israel feeling in Scottish Parliament with a motion for a members debate this month titled “Bridges not boycotts” which would be a positive motion about the “contribution of the Jewish community in Scotland today”, and “Israel’s place in the world”.
Mr Carlaw was the keynote speaker at the first Scottish student conference run by Israel advocacy organisation Stand With Us, held in Glasgow yesterday.
Around 30 students from the universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Strathclyde spoke about issues they faced on Scottish campuses.
Noa Cohen, vice-chair of a the new Israel Engagement Society at Edinburgh University, said her group was building up support by emphasising social events rather than political ones.
The IES was formed last year “in reaction to a strong BDS movement”, she said. “The main target was people who were sympathetic towards Israel, not necessarily Jews”. The group already have a core of around 30 members, but only around 25 per cent are Jewish.
IES political vice-chair Theo Robertson-Bonds said that Israel supporters were trying to bring a different mood to the political debate on campus.
“Students for Justice in Palestine tends to have events based around letter-writing or staging a die-in. It’s not fun, it’s not engaging. Thus we’re trying to have fun and engage people through that. Our view is through building up a really rich social base where people talk about anything, but particularly support each other on issues relating to faith and the state of Israel, that will attract more people to come along just organically.”
Ms Cohen also advised avoidance of the word “Zionism”. “There’s such negative connotations. It needs to be tackled eventually, but especially when you’re trying to build up a base, stay away from it.”
One student told of her frustration at having separate Jewish and Israel societies, adding she felt she was unable to advertise events relating to Israel in her JSoc.
Another student said what happened on campus was a “microcosm” of a wider problem in Scottish society where, students said, being anti-Israel is almost mandatory for people who are politically left-leaning. Concerns over Scottish Parliament members, such as SNP member Sandra White, who have promoted anti-Israel views or content on social media were also raised.
The day-long conference at Giffnock Synagogue included an activism skill session run by emeritus Glasgow professor David Stone and Glasgow Friends of Israel member Sammy Stein. Students also heard a first-person account of dealing with discrimination from Israeli former student Smadar Bakovic.
Stand With Us communities director Irene Naftalin said she was heartened to see a lot more non-Jewish students at the Scottish conference than at the group’s London gatherings.