The number of antisemitic attacks in Scotland doubled last year (rising ten-fold in Glasgow). Given the size of the Jewish population – 10,000 spread across every local authority area in Scotland – Jews are more likely than other religious groups to be targeted.
The nature of the attacks, too, is of concern. Some have been online. Antisemitic comments were posted on a TV channel’s Facebook page after a news broadcast about the possible opening of a Holocaust study centre in Scotland. But there has been a rise in physical abuse too: a woman is alleged to have had a “burning” substance thrown in her face while working on a stall selling Israeli cosmetics, a senior rabbi was greeted with shouts of “Sieg Heil” and, in Edinburgh, a boy sprayed deodorant at a girl while shouting: “Gas the Jews.” Most recently a sheltered housing complex in East Renfrewshire was daubed with the words: “Jewish C****. Jews Out,” alongside a swastika.
Jewish leaders are used to spikes in antisemitic incidents, usually coinciding with a flashpoint in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and born, they say, of a conflation between Judaism and Middle Eastern politics, but this spate, which began in the summer, is deep-rooted and sustained. The distress caused by individual attacks – in which Jews are often accused of having Palestinian blood on their hands – is exacerbated by a sense that the wider world also views them as pariahs. Though Glasgow City Council’s decision to fly the Palestinian flag after Israel launched Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza strip was politically motivated, the hurt it caused the Jewish community was visceral. “It was partly the fear that it would cause another backlash, but it was also because Glasgow is the place that gave our families a home,” says Louise, a Giffnock resident.
Add to this the attacks on the Jewish Museum in Belgium, the kosher deli in Paris and the synagogue in Copenhagen – and Benjamin Netanyahu’s provocative call for European Jews to move to Israel – and it’s no wonder people here feel demoralised.
“Some people are saying it’s not that bad, you shouldn’t be so concerned, you shouldn’t be talking about the Holocaust, this is nothing like what happened in the 1930s,” says Louise, “and of course it’s not. Still, people think: ‘How did it all start back then?’ They have this nagging feeling at the back of their minds.”
Already the rise in antisemitic sentiment is having an impact on the way East Renfrewshire Jews behave. The community seems to have closed in on itself; people are increasingly reluctant to draw attention to their Jewishness or to engage in political debate. At the kosher deli and café, where specialities include hot salt beef sandwiches and Jewish Penicillin (a soup renowned for its medicinal properties), the owner says he wants to get on with serving his customers and does not want to talk politics.
But those who are prepared to speak – albeit anonymously – report a dramatic change in the way Jews throughout Scotland feel about themselves and their country, so dramatic, in fact, that Being Jewish, a project undertaken by the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (SCoJeC) in which a range of people were interviewed about their experiences, is being updated to take into account of shifting attitudes. One woman – Anna – who lives in a rural community, told the original interviewers Scotland was a “darn good place to be a Jew”. Today, she feels marginalised and says her grown-up son has expressed a desire to move to Israel.
At the SCoJeC offices attached to the synagogue, director Ephraim Borowski, a mild-mannered man with a greying beard and a good line in self-deprecating humour, says Jewish people are upset not only by specific attacks but by what they see as a wider anti-Jewish narrative. He has no shortage of stories of overt abuse – the student who came back to her student halls after a holiday to find a paper menorah refashioned into a swastika, or the many ordinary people attacked for “supporting the murder of Palestinian babies”, though their views on Israel have never been sought – but says people were also outraged by one newspaper’s decision to carry Netanyahu’s statement on the front page and a story about the killings in Copenhagen on page 7. “Some Scottish Jews feel so vulnerable, they are reluctant to speak Hebrew in the street, while Israelis living in Scotland often tell people they are Turkish,” he adds.
Take time to read the full report by The Scotsman here.