Racism against Jews – antisemitism – is the world’s oldest hatred. And it exists in every country, including here in Scotland.
One of the most inspiring people I have ever met is holocaust survivor Ernest Levy. He was imprisoned in Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps. He then made his home in Glasgow. When I asked him about his first impressions of Scotland, he said that the sun rarely shone and that he felt welcome in the city. Only rarely did he face racism here.
But he also knew that the time when anti-Jewish racism often spikes is when there’s increased tensions in the Middle East. Too often in the past, violence in the Middle East leads to Jews being targeted, graffiti being daubed, and heightened tensions. Like all racisms, it’s maddening. Jews in Israel didn’t cause the slaughter of 1,600 Israelis last weekend, and Jews in this country aren’t to blame for anything that’s happening in the Middle East right now.
This week’s visit to Scotland’s biggest synagogue in Giffnock by Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf was a welcome and poignant moment of solidarity. Every life is of equal value, whether it’s an Israeli or Palestinian. But Israel and Hamas are not of equal standing. Israel is a strong democracy; Hamas is a Jew-hating death cult that wants to destroy Israel. We shouldn’t forget that.
This is the first major Middle East crisis of the digital age. It means that we are all closer to it than any previous conflict in the region. The sickeningly violent videos of civilian murders appear on our social media feeds. The conflict is already being debated in Scotland’s workplaces and school classrooms. But increasingly, arguments in support of Hamas pollute many of our timelines. Much of it claims that because Palestinians are denied their rightful claim of a democratic State living next to Israel, then Hamas’ slaughter of Jews is in somehow justified. I want to be clear, anyone supporting Hamas’ violence against Jews is an antisemite. It’s not complicated. Just as anyone who supported the lynching of African Americans in the 1960’s was a racist, then anyone supporting the beheading of Jewish babies this week is an antisemite.
Scotland, and the west of Scotland in particular, has been scarred by a different type of religious intolerance for far too much of our history. In Scotland fewer than one in a thousand people are Jewish, but they have faced more than a thousandth of Scotland’s racism. Through no fault of their own, most Scots have never had a Jewish friend, partner, neighbour, or workmate. But Scotland’s Jews have been in this country longer than many of the Murphys and other immigrant families. They have always contributed to Scotland’s culture, architecture, literature, healthcare, and politics.
And yet, what most Scots don’t know is that Scotland’s few synagogues and only Jewish school have security outside them most, if not every day. Imagine your child going to school every day, or your family going to synagogue every week, with security guards stationed outside to protect you from the risk of racism from your fellow Scots. How have we ever allowed that to be the norm in Scotland and across the rest of the UK? Surely, we can do better than that as a nation.
So, let’s make sure that during this latest violent crisis in the Middle East, there isn’t an upsurge in antisemitism here. This is a moment to stand in solidarity not to scapegoat Scotland’s Jewish community.