Attendees and apologies
- Humza Yousaf MSP, First Minister of Scotland
- Elie Glaser, President, Edinburgh University Jewish Society
- Ollie Davis, President, University of St Andrews Jewish Society
- Lachlan Ferguson-Shaw, President, University of Dundee Jewish Society
- Anat Kraskin, Co-President, Glasgow Jewish Students Society
- Dorothy Sherratt, Co-President, Glasgow Jewish Students Society
- Levona Zarum, President, Aberdeen University Jewish Society
- Elkan Hershon, President, Stirling University Jewish Society
- Rabbi Eliran Shabo, Jewish Chaplains in Scotland
- Ayalah Shabo, Jewish Chaplains in Scotland
- Emi Sinclair, Campaigns Sabbatical Officer, Union of Jewish Students (UJS)
- Ephraim Borowski, Director, SCoJeC
- Nicola Livingstone, Chair, ScoJeC
- Steven Paxton, Scottish Government
- Daniel McCarron, Scottish Government
- Luke Anderson, Scottish Government
Items and actions
Introduction and welcome
The First Minister (FM) welcomed attendees to Atlantic Quay and thanked them for their time.
At the outset, he condemned terrorist attacks on Israel by Hamas on 7 October 2023 and expressed his sympathies to the those affected by it and their families.
FM reiterated that he asked for this meeting and that he wanted to hear directly from students about their experiences on campus since the attacks of 7 October. He emphasised the value of the Jewish community to civic life in Scotland and made clear that it is unacceptable that they should feel unsafe or under attack.
FM spoke of his lifelong friendship with the Jewish community from his childhood which has continued into his political career, and reflected on his own experiences of islamophobia following the events of 9/11. He shared his view that antisemitism and islamophobia are two sides of the same coin and we must condemn and tackle them together.
Chaplains shared that the past term had been a challenging one for Jewish students and wished to recognise their hard work during such a difficult period. They also noted that for the most part Scottish universities have done good work in addressing and resolving students’ issues.
FM was keen to know what was life like on campus before 7 October and what is it like now, and welcomed an open discussion.
The students made the following points:
- Jewish students have always experienced antisemitism in some form. However, prior to 7 October, they felt safe in organising campus events, but this is no longer the case
- the debate on Israel and Palestine has become very polarised, and it feels like it is unacceptable for Jewish students to have an opinion at the moment
- inter-faith tensions on campus have risen and relationships have fractured and there is concern across faiths as to how to progress matters
- other student societies and, in some instances, charities had stopped engaging with JSocs
- some disturbing incidents had occurred including a Jewish student being spat on, and another being called a ‘murderer’ for wearing a religious necklace
- other on campus actions had made Jewish students feel unsafe, namely the defacing of posters calling for the release of the hostages held by Hamas in an interfaith room
- perception that people can say what they want to Jewish students and there are no clear consequences for hate speech and discrimination
- given concerns around safety, there is a need for safe spaces for Jewish students
- Jewish students are often asked to condemn the actions of the Israeli Government, and expected to know the details of the conflict, explain it to others, and take responsibility for it, which can be exhausting
Institutions have been mixed in their support. It was felt that universities needed to have more tools at their disposal to help Jewish students.
- in some instances they reached out to JSocs and individual students to offer support
- it was generally felt that institutions had failed to follow up on that initial contact with concrete action
- in some cases institutions hadn’t reached out to students at all
- some institutions issued helpful information packs to the student body on how to approach and support their Jewish classmates
- some institutional action was considered to be well-meaning although inappropriate, such as holding pro-Palestine events and trying to include Jewish students in those, whilst tensions were still high
- articles on the Israel/Gaza conflict had been issued in university newspapers without being fact-checked and it was felt that institutions were slow to respond to this
- certain student groups had explicitly expressed support for Hamas (a proscribed terrorist organisation), and whilst institutions apologised, they advised that they could take no further action as those groups were not affiliated with the student association; and some student groups had called for ‘intifada until victory’. Intifadas had resulted in the deaths of Israeli civilians. Calls for ‘intifada’ are unacceptable and although this had been reported to Police Scotland, no action appears to have been taken
Other support for Jewish students
The Muslim community have generally been very kind and supportive.
Kirsty Blackman MP (Aberdeen North) was also reported as having been particularity helpful.
The FM responded to the issues raised by students as follows:
- whilst at university, he was involved in an Islamic society which always engaged and collaborated with Jewish and Christian groups, and he was concerned these relationships are fracturing
- he acknowledged that communities are still hurting, which can make it difficult to reach out and re-build those important relationships
- institutions should be mindful that Jewish students are not a homogenous group, they are people with a plurality of views
- he was hurt to hear that a student has been spat on and recalled his own experiences after 9/11. He strongly reiterated that these actions are unacceptable
- he shared students’ frustrations at institutional inability to act with regards student organisations expressing support for Hamas, which is a proscribed terrorist organisation
Action: SG officials to follow up the matter with institutions regarding the conduct of certain student groups.
- he was concerned to hear that students feel they cannot freely express their Jewish identity on campus, and stated that we must do better to support them
- he made clear that universities should be places where students can report antisemitism and action should be taken to address their concerns
- he asked the Union of Jewish students to collate a document of students’ expectations and desired actions from universities, which he would take forward directly with institutions
Action: Emi Sinclair, UJS, to work with students to collate a document with their expectations and share this with Scottish Government, for FM to raise with universities.
The FM thanked everyone for attending and emphasised the importance of Jewish students having the freedom and confidence to express their Jewish identity and that the Scottish Government stands with Jewish families in Scotland and in Israel.
He undertook to raise the issues highlighted at the meeting, and in the document to be collated by UJS, with the university sector.
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