A delegation from the Jewish Community including SCoJeC Director Ephraim Borowski met Mike Russell MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Education, in the Minister’s office in the Scottish Parliament. The other members of the delegation were Paul Morron, Vice-President of the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council, and Nicola Livingston, Chair of Scottish Jewish Student Chaplaincy, both of whom are members of the SCoJeC executive. Also present was West of Scotland MSP Stewart Maxwell MSP.
The meeting was arranged primarily to discuss concerns about the atmosphere of intimidation at Edinburgh University that had led to Jewish students terminating their studies early or not taking up offered places, and the inadequacy and insensitivity of the university’s response. The Jewish community has been concerned about the adverse impact on current, and also possibly future, Jewish students of the disruption of Jewish Student Society meetings in 2011 and 2012. Two meetings were so severely targeted because the speakers were Israelis – the Bedouin diplomat Ismail Khaldi in 2011, and the Israel Ambassador in October 2012 – that they had to be abandoned. It later emerged that the university security staff and police had been instructed by the Principal not to intervene, and the university’s response was to propose a meeting between the Jewish Sociiety and their attackers.
The Minister received the delegation sympathetically and was clearly well informed about the situation at the University. He said that he believes strongly in democratic rights being upheld at Scottish Universities, and that “although there is a right to demonstrate, there is no right to intimidate and prevent free speech.” Mr Russell informed us he would meet and take these matters up directly with Professor Timothy O’Shea, Principal of Edinburgh University, in the immediate future, and would then advise us of the Principal’s response.
Stewart Maxwell MSP, who is Convener of the parliament's Education Committee, commented, “I was very concerned to hear that some students at Edinburgh University felt intimidated by the atmosphere created by these protests: universities should be places where ideas of all kinds can be discussed freely. I was also dismayed that invited guests were not allowed to put their case; shouting down an opponent is not a victory for reason, and does nothing to further any cause or bolster any argument. I was delighted to be able to arrange a meeting between representatives of the Jewish Community and the Cabinet Secretary for Education to discuss this issue, and I was pleased by the Cabinet Secretary’s robust defence of free speech.”
University Chaplaincy Chair Nicola Livingston said, “Although Edinburgh is the current focus of problems for Jewish students, other Scottish Universities need to remain alert to ensure that anti-Israel sentiments are not directed at, nor allowed to sour the atmosphere for, Jewish and Israeli students studying in Scotland.”
SCoJeC Director Ephraim Borowski added, “The majority of respondents in our recent survey of the experience of Being Jewish in Scotland told us how extreme anti-Israel sentiment has undermined their sense of security and well-being as Jews in Scotland, so it was important to hear the Minister assert that members of the Jewish community should never be held responsible for, or suffer as a result of, events in the Middle East.”