The comments had been made by a prominent member of the Jewish community when he had spoken to the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Freedom of Religion and Belief but were only now being picked up by the newspaper with the publication of the minutes of that meeting. It’s true that anti-Semitism seems to be on the rise. The article quotes a recent report by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights which found that almost 90% of respondents across European countries believed instances of anti-Semitism had increased over the past five years. Some of this will be due to the high profile killings in France, Belgium and America but in Britain the Community Security Trust reported that there were more anti – Semitic incidents in 2018 than in any previous year. Whether there have actually been more incidents or people are now more likely to report incidents is unclear.
The difficulty with anti-Semitism is that it’s often associated with the Israel – Palestinian conflict. Those who are concerned about the plight of the Palestinians and therefore critical of the State of Israel are sometimes accused of anti-Semitism while they would disassociate themselves from that, distinguishing between Israelis and Jews. Jews conscious of their history, aware of some Middle East countries’ aim to be rid of Israel and still mindful of the hatred that resulted in the Holocaust are anxious for anything that undermines the State of Israel – the only place in the world where they feel safe. As in all conflicts there are two sides to the story and our interpretation of events and understanding of the situation depends where we stand. Both viewpoints are valid and legitimate but one-sided, limited and partial. Often I hear members of the Jewish community say that to be pro-Israel is not to be anti-Palestine. But it’s also true that to be pro – Palestine is not to be anti –Israel. The secret is when talking from our own particular viewpoint to remember there is another viewpoint and when listening to one side to remember that there is another side – and both sides will have truth in them. I think it would be helpful very often if these somewhat conflicting truths could be acknowledged. Some people have suggested that the Israel – Palestine conflict is the elephant in the room when it comes to talking about anti –Semitism and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and discussing how the conflict is to be talked about without a polarisation that renders the participants deaf and unable to hear the other side. We’ve never come up with an answer.
Anti –Semitism, like Islamophobia and other forms of racism, is wrong. It’s recognised as a sin in the Catholic Church. But it would seem from the media that things are getting worse. Here in Britain, as we face Brexit, we have also polarised politically and blame immigration for a societal structure that is breaking down and changing. We have become inhospitable to immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers and the voices that want to restrict ‘strangers’ from coming to our country are loud and clear. What is it that makes us so distrusting of the other members of our race, people whom many of our religions tell us are made in the image and likeness of God and are out brothers and sisters. We seem to be incapable of appreciating diversity. We seem to be driven by fear, suspicion, hate even; to be content to live in our own fortress-like communities, to set up defences against the stranger.
And much of this is unconscious. It so happens that this evening, having started this blog, I went to a Christian service in Glasgow Cathedral to celebrate St Mungo, the Patron Saint of Glasgow. It was a rather wonderful service – good singing, sincere prayers for our city and its people, a talk about hospitality and openness to refugees and asylum seekers. The Christian Churches, educational establishments and civic bodies were well represented. What was missing was representation from any faith tradition other than Christianity. I felt its miss but I don’t suppose too many others even noticed. People of all faiths and none are citizens of Glasgow. Hopefully they will be happy to acknowledge and recognise Glasgow’s Christian origins.It would be good therefore if events such as today’s service could acknowledge the multi-faith nature of our society and the religious and human values that bind us together. To devise a service that did this while honouring our founding saint would take a lot of work, time and even dialogue. But it would be a step in witnessing to the fact that people of all faiths and none are equal citizens and have a common home in our city. Could this be a small assurance for those who experience a prejudice that suggests they do not belong?