SCoJeC was delighted to respond to a request the Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland QC, to assure the Community that prosecutors are determined to tackle antisemitic hate crime by arranging for him to address a public meeting in Giffnock. The well-attended meeting, on the topic 'Tackling Religious Hatred', was held jointly with Jewish Student Chaplaincy and supported by Giffnock and Newlands Synagogue, and was chaired by Nicola Livingston, who is Hon Secretary of SCoJeC and Chair of the Northern Regional Chaplaincy Board.
Mr Mulholland said he had requested the meeting in order to reassure the Jewish community that, as head of the prosecution service, he is determined to tackle all hate crime in Scotland. He explained that the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill currently being considered by the Scottish Parliament is intended to address all religious hatred, not only sectarianism between Catholics and Protestants, and is needed because the Common Law offence of Breach of the Peace is now considered inadequate to deal with hate crime. He spoke of his own experience of sectarianism as a child, commenting that "things get better for a while, but then it pops up again", and commented that the same is true of antisemitism.
Crown Office has adopted a zero tolerance policy towards hate crime, and the Lord Advocate has issued instructions to prosecutors not to accept any plea bargain that would remove racial or religious aggravation from a charge, although he acknowledged that, as in the recent case of an attack onthe Celtic manager, Neil Lennon, this might sometimes result in an acquittal.
He said, "I am a great believer that people have right to celebrate their own culture, religion, and heritage, but a line is crossed when doing that pours hatred on anyone else's culture, religion, and heritage. That is unacceptable in society, and should be addressed where at all possible. I want to give the Jewish community, as valuable members of Scottish society, that reassurance."
Mr Mulholland referred to the recent conviction of a St Andrews student for a racist attack on a Jewish fellow-student, saying "We took a very strong line, and it was sometimes very difficult. However, I was very impressed by independence of the Sheriff, who was not swayed by the huge number of supporters in court, and convicted the attacker on basis of the evidence."
The Lord Advocate described the way in which prosecution policy has brought about changes in social attitudes, for example to carrying knives, and drink driving, and concluded, "I want to give you my reassurance that under my watch, prosecutors will continue to treat all types of hate crime very seriously indeed. In time, with action from the government, police, prosecutors, and the people of Scotland, I hope to make this a place where everyone is respected for their culture, background, and religion."
During the subsequent discussion, Paul Morron of the Jewish Student Chaplaincy Board, drew attention to an emerging pattern of which the St Andrews case was just the latest example. He referred to the daubing of Jewish students' rooms in several universities, and the disruption of a Jewish Society meeting in Edinburgh University, when an Arab Israeli diplomat was prevented from speaking and abuse was directed at Jewish students and the Chaplain. As a result, the Chaplaincy Board are having to deal with enquiries from students, their parents, and indeed universities, about whether Scotland is a safe place for Jewish students to study, and they are concerned that damage has been done to Scotland's reputation. People should have the right to celebrate their culture or background without fear, but one of the concerns about the St Andrews case was that the defence tried to define for the Jewish community what Judaism is.
The Lord Advocate responded that that was why it had been in the public interest to prosecute, and hoped that the verdict would send a reassuring message to current and prospective Jewish students. He undertook to convey the strength of feeling to the Education Secretary, Mike Russell, and offered to meet Jewish students to offer them his reassurance.
In reply to questions about a recent Facebook page that attacked the Giffnock community in explicitly antisemitic terms, and an article in the Herald comparing Giffnock with Gaza that had contained antisemitic innuendo, Mr Mulholland emphasised that the media have a responsibility not be a conduit for hatred. He acknowledged, however, that it can be difficult to moderate comment pages, and the law can be difficult to enforce, since many internet providers are in the US where the law on freedom of speech is different. He added that he himselfis often the subject of such attacks, and also finds them very hurtful and distressing.
Thanking Mr Mulholland, SCoJeC Director Ephraim Borowski said that the Lord Advocate had requested the opportunity to speak to the community to express his abhorrence about recent incidents and to assure the community of his support. He thanked Mr Mulholland, and his predecessor Elish Anglioni, for their readiness to meet the community to discuss not only hate crime but also other matters in their jurisdiction. He concluded, "The commitment of Government and the Law Officers to tackle hate crime, including antisemitism, is welcome and reassuring."