SCoJeC Director Ephraim Borowski participated in a panel on the topic “Racism – are we winning” at the biennial conference on Hate Crime hosted by the Lord Advocate and the Chief Constable at Hampden Park.
The conference was tragically overshadowed by the terrorist attacks on Brussels that morning, and by the expected backlash against the Muslim and Jewish Communities in Scotland. In her keynote speech, the First Minister referred to the diversity of her own constituency – Glasgow Southside – which was once home to a very large Jewish Community, and to her visit to Garnethill Synagogue and the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre, which was organised by SCoJec last autumn.
She acknowledged that while religious hate crime in general has fallen, hatred directed against Islam and Judaism has increased, and referred to the findings of SCoJeC’s government-funded inquiry into What’s Changed about Being Jewish in Scotland in 2015 “that there was an increase in the number of Jewish people considering leaving Scotland. That is unacceptable. There had also been an increase – as a result of negative experiences – in individuals hiding their Jewish identity which is, again, completely unacceptable.” The First Minister also reiterated the statement she had made at her first public meeting with the Community that “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.“
The session on Racism was chaired by the Radio Scotland broadcaster and Channel 4 Head of Programmes, Stuart Cosgrove, who posed the question “Are we winning?” to a panel of representatives of the Polish, Roma, Muslim, Chinese, and Jewish Communities. Ephraim’s answer was “slowly!”, and he and others echoed the statement by the Lord Advocate that language that was common only a decade ago is unacceptable now. After Zosia Fraser, from the Polish community in the Highlands, said that they are “invisible” to public policy, Ephraim suggested this is because the fixation on skin colour in terms such as “BME” excludes those who are neither “black” nor the majority, and when he gave the example of the victim of an antisemitic attack who had been told that it could not have been racist because he was "not black enough", it drew an audible gasp from the audience.
The following day, Ephraim also took part in a discussion about prejudice on Radio Scotland’s Kaye Adams programme. When Mediha Ahmed, a Scottish medical student, said she is regularly attacked – both verbally and physically – because she “looks like a terrorist”, he replied, “No you don’t! You look like Mediha – who happens to wear a niqab”. While welcoming official messages of “reassurance” to communities, he expressed concern that shouting “don’t panic” can have the “Corporal Jones effect” and heighten anxiety; public condemnation is more important. He echoed the Chief Constable's call for people to be "alert, not alarmed", and concluded, "Stop putting up with it. If you're a victim, report it; if you're a witness, report it. Even if they can't find the perpetrator, it helps form a better picture of the problem".