Anti-Semitism campaign in Scotland sees positive results

Yiftah Curiel criticised attempts to stop Israel-funded theatre productions. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Yiftah Curiel criticised attempts to stop Israel-funded theatre productions. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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A CAMPAIGN to counter anti-Israeli hostility in Scotland has produced positive results over the past year, according to a spokesman for the Embassy of Israel, which recently set up an office north of the Border.

Israel has been targeted by pro-Palestine groups in Scotland, especially during the Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe, where Israeli-funded productions have been disrupted, achieving worldwide publicity.

Scotland’s Jewish population is approximately 10,000. Jewish leaders say anti-Semitic ­behaviour increases when ­coverage of the latest Gaza and West Bank conflict hits television screens or after terror attacks on Jews, such as those in Paris and Copenhagen.

The Community Security Trust, a charity monitoring ­anti-Semitism in the UK, recorded 1,168 incidents in 2014, up from 535 the previous year.

In Scotland there were 31 attacks in 2014, up from 14 the previous year.

Recent moves to raise Israel’s standing in Scotland include volunteers from IsraAID, an Israel-based humanitarian aid organisation, helping to clear up after the Ballater floods and promoting freedom of speech debates.

Yiftah Curiel, spokesman for the Embassy of Israel in London, which last year opened the Centre for Scotland and Israel Relations (CSIR) in Giffnock, East Renfrewshire, said: “Usually the media only talk about bad news, but we are seeing a change for the good in Scotland in the past year.

“Last week an Israeli society [the Israeli Engagement ­Society] was formally recognised at the University of Edinburgh [Edinburgh University Students’ Association], showing that academic freedom on campus has gained momentum. Seen through that freedom, it doesn’t matter what you think about the Israel and Palestine issue. There are also now 11 Friends of Israel groups in Scotland.

“As far as the Scottish Parliament is concerned, we’ve seen a motion thanking the Israeli NGO IsraAID. There was also a motion last May saying Israel needs cultural bridges, not boycotts.”

However, Curiel, visiting Edinburgh for Holocaust memorial events, acknowledged that pro-Palestine protesters still grab the limelight, especially when protesting against ­Israeli-funded theatre.

“It’s wrong. But responsible theatre and festival managers, municipal officials and police need to ensure freedom of diversity applies to Israel too. In fact, art and theatre performances contribute to seeing Israel in a more complex light, and some of it can be quite critical too,” he said.

Curiel is considering approaching the National Theatre of Scotland, which takes work Scotland-wide to promote Israeli productions.

Ruth Kennedy, director of the CSIR, said: “The centre wasn’t set up as a result of the spike in incidents. There’s been a lot of work going on for the past eight years and we’re continuing to build bridges between the Christian and Jewish community.

“When there is a spike in conflict, such as in Israel in 2014, there are repercussions for the Jewish community in Scotland. People think it is OK to vent their feelings.

“It’s not acceptable. You can’t hold all Jewish people responsible.”

Hugh Humphries, secretary of Scottish Friends of Palestine, said: “Israel claims it is a state for all Jewish people. In reality it is not. They are certainly making an effort in Scotland but it is all propaganda. I would not accept these people operating in Scotland as arbitrators of free speech.”

An Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society spokeswoman said: “The role of the Fringe Society is not to curate or censor the Festival or its performers.”