Scottish Council of Jewish Communites
Scottish Council of Jewish Communities
 
Scottish Council of Jewish Communities

First Minister: "So long as a single person feels they cannot celebrate their Jewish identity,
we still have work to do"

 
31 August 2015
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP addresses the Jewish Community

The First Minister, the Rt Hon Nicola Sturgeon, attracted a capacity crowd of over 300 people when she met the Jewish Community in Giffnock Synagogue hall.

The meeting arose from the undertaking to visit the Community and hear their concerns first hand that she gave to the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities when we met her in June, and she again repeated her commitment to future meetings, especially with particular interest groups within the Community.

In her opening remarks, the First Minister said that its diversity is one of the best things about modern Scotland, and referred to recent photographic exhibition in the Scottish Parliament with its pictures of a Jewish sheep farmer and kosher haggis as evidence of the truth of the former Chief Rabbi’s comment that the Jewish Community of Scotland is “integrated but not assimilated”.

First Minster Nicola Sturgeon MSP being presented with a book about the Glasgow Jewish community

However, Ms Sturgeon acknowledged that SCoJeC's recent inquiry into the experience of What's Changed About Being Jewish in Scotland, funded by the Scottish Government, had given real cause for concern, she said “I don’t want to be the First Minister, or even live in, a country where Jewish people want to leave or hide their identity.” Despite the difficulties caused by the conflict in Gaza, she reiterated the Scottish Government’s support for a two-state solution, adding that “Israel has a right to exist and a right to exist peacefully", and that “There is nothing that happens in Israel or Palestine that can be justification for antisemitism or any racial or religious hatred. That is a point that has to be made at every level of Scottish society very, very strongly.”

Some of the audience listening to the First Minister

Repeating her commitment to a Scotland with no place for antisemitism or any other form of racial or religious hatred, the First Minister commented, “But saying that is not enough, and so long as a single person is a victim or feels they cannot celebrate their Jewish identity, we still have work to do,” before wishing the Community “ketivah vachatimah tovah, shanah tovah – may you all be inscribed in the Book of Life, have a good year, and live in peace”.

She said that although she currently has no plans to visit Israel, she saw no reason not to do so, but refused to make this “a litmus test for her commitment to the Jewish Community”.  She also denied that “there is an antisemitic culture in the Scottish Parliament. "There is absolutely, emphatically not, but, as in any Parliament, members have a right to put down motions,” and she encouraged members of the Community to discuss their concerns with the own MSPs.

The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, with young members of the Jewish community

Responding to a series of particularly emotionally charged questions, Ms Sturgeon said that her visit was motivated by her recognition that the Community is “anxious, worried, scared” and her desire to understand and to stand with us. Referring to her earlier visit to the Community’s Guides and Brownies, she said that she had been upset that she had to enter the building through a secure entrance, and wants Scotland to be a place “where everyone feels free to walk the streets without interference”, and added that it is not enough to speak to the community that is affected, but those responsible need to be challenged: “What I can do is to take the message to other audiences that I speak to that we must cherish and value diversity.”

Ms Sturgeon said that Scottish nationalism has “no one thing in common with the unsavoury and horrible creeds that call themselves nationalism. I believe that if you choose to live in Scotland, it doesn’t matter where you’re from; it’s not about identity but about everyone who lives here sharing the responsibility to make Scotland as good as it can be.”  She concluded, “Without the Jewish Community, Scotland would be a poorer and less desirable place. Whatever our divisions of opinion, one thing we can all agree on is that this is your home.”

She later issued the following statement:

"I was delighted to accept the invitation to meet with the Jewish community to hear their views on the experiences and issues of concern to Jewish communities in Scotland.

“We believe that everyone has the right to be safe and to feel safe in their communities, and we are committed to creating and supporting safer and stronger communities in which we all take responsibility for our actions and how they affect others.

“I look forward to greater engagement with members of the Jewish community in the near future as we work together to eradicate antisemitism and intolerance in this country.”

SCoJeC Director Ephraim Borowski said:

We welcome the speed with which the First Minister has delivered on her undertaking when we met her to hear for herself from members of the Community. It was heartening to hear her celebrate the contribution of the Jewish Community to public life in Scotland while acknowledging that the Community is “anxious, worried, scared” and that this needs to be addressed, not only by reassuring the victims, but by tackling the source of the hatred. We now look forward to taking up her invitation to arrange further meetings to hear from particular groups within the Community, and to work with her and her Government to address the underlying causes of their concerns."

The meeting was organised jointly by the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council, whose President, Paul Morron, chaired the meeting, and SCoJeC, whose Chair, Hilary Rifkind, gave the vote of thanks. The newly elected MP for Eastwood, Kirsten Oswald, also spoke briefly.

 

   
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