These, and other similar comments, highlighted the concerns and anxieties of many Israelis living in Scotland, although similar comments were made by many other Jewish respondents to the survey. Subsequent discussions revealed that the Israelis long for opportunities to come together to share experiences, and gain mutual support, and the Israeli students in particular told us how much they would like to meet other Jewish and Israeli students across Scotland.
This was confirmed in the second half of 2012, when one of our interns, Shani Zour, an Israeli who has lived for many years in Scotland, held several focus groups and discussions in Hebrew that were attended by Israelis, including students. There was widespread agreement among those attending the various groups, who, for example, feel fearful whenever there are protests against Israel, and are concerned about security issues at their children's schools and elsewhere. As we were told during the Being Jewish in Scotland project, some felt that it is not safe to tell people that they are from Israel, and one Israeli student told us that she is leaving Scotland for London, partly because of feelings of isolation.
A number of people expressed concerns about the media, which they felt was hostile towards Israel, and frequently published misleading reports, and they called for wider dissemination of unbiased information to the general public. Participants also wanted to see more constant, open, and public support for Israel, such as rallies, and information stands in the city centre, and not only when the country was under attack.
Local issues and activities were also of interest to focus group participants, who asked for a Hebrew language newsletter to keep them informed of communal events including Yom HaAtzmaut and Yom HaZikaron as well as religious festivals. They were also very keen to participate in Israeli-themed cultural activities such as music, dance, food, and films. Participants also asked for a meeting space where they could have access to Hebrew language books and newspapers. Another suggestion was the provision in Hebrew of information to assist with job and house hunting, and dealing with British bureaucracy, the NHS, utility companies, and higher education.
Since the results of the 2011 census have not yet been published, the most recent available figures for Israelis living in Scotland are from the 2001 census, in which 334 people declared themselves to have been born in Israel. Given that some people told us that they conceal their Israeli identity, the actual figure is likely to be higher, particularly since some people with dual nationality may have chosen to mention only their other nationality.
We would also expect the number of Israelis who identified themselves as Jewish – only 159 – to be an underestimate, and think it likely that most are Jewish or of Jewish heritage. The reasons for this have been widely discussed, for example in a Jewish Policy Research Institute study of the Leeds community. These include that the religion questions in the census were voluntary, that many older members of the community, especially Holocaust survivors, are reluctant to identify themselves to the state as Jewish, and that the Scottish census (unlike that in England and Wales) asked “what religion … you belong to”, thereby excluding people who live in areas where there is no community to belong to, as well as those who regard themselves as ethnically but not religiously Jewish.
Meeting the needs of both Israelis and Jewish people in general is also made more difficult by government policies of localism, since numbers are mostly too small to be visible at local level, so that culturally sensitive support can only be provided through national networks. SCoJeC is therefore seeking funding to enable us to meet at least some of this need in partnership with other organisations. We propose to model this work on our Being Jewish in Scotland project, facilitating dual-purpose events, at which people will have the opportunity to share their experience, both positive and negative, of being Israeli in Scotland, to voice their concerns and anxieties, to receive support both from SCoJeC and from other participants, and to overcome their feelings of isolation by meeting other Israelis socially. If funding permits, we would also hope to continue to employ our Hebrew speaking intern whose work to date has received excellent feedback, to produce a Hebrew language edition of our bi-monthly e-newsletter, and to develop online guidance in Hebrew to accessing communal resources and key public services.