A delegation from SCoJeC met the First Minister for a private meeting at his official residence, Bute House in Edinburgh, today. The initial reason for the meeting was the increase in antisemitic activity during the past year, and the First Minister expressed his horror at the abuse of the name of the SNP in extreme antisemitic graffiti at a Jewish cemetery, which he described as "deranged", and instructed his staff to ensure that the local authority concerned takes prompt and effective action in the event of a recurrence.
Mr Salmond was also very perturbed to learn of the increase in the number and range of antisemitic incidents, and pledged his support for strategies of both education to help prevent this, and prosecution to help deter it. In particular, the First Minister said he was pleased to hear of the recent prosecution of someone accused of posting vicious antisemitic messages on a newspaper website, and undertook to write to editors to remind them of their responsibility for what appears on their sites.
We discussed the fact that antisemitic activity tends to increase in proportion to media reports about the middle east even if these do not relate to Israel, and that Israeli politics are not in any sense the responsibility of the Jewish Community in Scotland. SCoJeC Chair Walter Sneader drew attention to the disproportionate interest in Israel and Palestine in the media and Parliament, as contrasted with other areas of conflict, and the First Minister suggested that this may be in part the historical legacy of the British Mandate, which led to the establishment of Israel.
Turning to other matters, Mr Salmond recalled that the Government had supported our initiative to send a copy of Scotland's Jews to every school and public library in Scotland, and that he had written a preface for the book. He was very interested to hear of the proposal to produce a Scottish version of the Jewish Way of Life CD which the Pears Foundation had supported in England and Wales, and proposed a further meeting to discuss this and other educational initiatives.
We took this opportunity to draw attention to the fact that the proposed withdrawal of central funding in favour of block grants to local authorities would impact disproportionately on minority communities and in particular isolated individuals in rural areas. We told Mr Salmond about the success of our Kosher Ceilidh tour of rural areas, and explained that this would not have been possible under the proposed arrangements, as no individual authority would have supported it. The First Minister said that he accepted our concern, and asked his officials to explore how exceptions could be made to enable such initiatives to continue.
Finally, we discussed the acceptability of MRI scans in place of surgical post mortems. We explained the importance of this to many faith communities, and also that families are unable to begin the grieving process until after the funeral. The Lord Advocate has expressed her support, and has said that legislation may not be required, and the Justice Committee has asked for the Government to confirm this formally. In addition there may be resource issues, including training for Fiscals and pathologists, and the First Minister undertook to look into all these matters.
Commenting on the very amicable tone and extremely positive outcomes of this meeting, which lasted more than 90 minutes rather than the scheduled half hour, Dr Walter Sneader said: "The atmosphere was most friendly and the First Minister listened carefully to what we had to say. He clearly demonstrated that he wanted to respond actively to our concerns."