Glasgow Friends of Israel in Buchanan Street every Saturday

‘Staunch are the friends that greet you’ is a line from Scotland the Brave. 

Here’s what happened when we took The Whitewashed Project to Glasgow.

The tone is set on the long train journey from London to Glasgow when two women across the aisle loudly concur that Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party are falsely smeared by accusations of antisemitism.

Some people tell us that our fears about the stubborn growth of antisemitism, caused by far left infiltration of the Labour Party, are exaggerated. If only.

At Preston we are detrained to be coached to Carlisle. There’s a fleet of coaches with nobody boarding them and  a static queue of people stretching to infinity and beyond. It’s freezing; I’m under doctor’s orders to rest, and are we going to make it? We go for broke and taxi the rest of the journey.

I’ve read about the specific and ongoing difficulties in Scotland, and specifically Glasgow. Those who believe in Israel’s right to exist, Jewish and not, have been taunted and bullied. Two unforgettably shameful events are the August 2014 flying of the Palestinian flag over Glasgow City Hall, which coincided with Scottish authorities failing to stand against BDS and resulted in Israeli group Propeller being bullied out of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

David Collier’s courageous and thorough exposé of the workings of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Committee and many of its supporters’  antisemitism appeared earlier this year, link below. It’s a difficult read for those of us who continue to hope we live in a democratic society where racism is condemned.

For years now I’ve wanted to have a proper discussion with Sammy Stein, and his wife Vicci, who are among those who run Glasgow Friends of Israel. I’ve heard Sammy in action; his mellifluous Scottish voice is always calm, assertive and well informed. Sammy, Vicci and other activists such as David Goldberg and Nigel Goodrich, sorry not to name them all,  have an all day Shabbat stand in Glasgow’s busy Buchanan Street where they brave the dreich Scottish weather to educate passers- by. They’ve been doing this since 2015.

I am worried about taking Whitewashed to people who are so engaged. Will it be relevant to Scotland? Will we be saying what they already know?

Ged and I finally reach Glasgow in time to meet the other impressive panellists for posh fish and chips in Giffnock. Gordon Matheson, Scottish and not Jewish, was leader of Glasgow council when that Palestinian flag was flown. Jamie Ross, also Scottish and not Jewish, is chair of the Israel Engagement Society at Edinburgh University. David Hirsh, like me, is not Scottish but is Jewish. He’s  been addressing the European Parliament in Brussels that morning about antisemitism and then flying into Edinburgh. Will he make it? To  jubilation he finally breezes in.

At Giffnock Synagogue, Ged Ornstein, riding shotgun, explains what inspired me to produce The Whitewashed Project, website below,  a self-financed film, book and website exposing antisemitism in the Labour Party by focusing on what Howard Jacobson calls the ‘still born’ Chakrabarti Enquiry into Antisemitism and other forms of Racism.
There were many stumbling blocks on the way. Nobody knew who this old trout was, me neither, so convincing many people to give permissions, to join in, needed military coordination and persistence. When David Hirsh was persuaded to come on board to write the film and do the interviewing, and wunderkind Ollie Anisfeld of J-TV finally agreed to make the film, his first documentary, it was the beginning of a round the clock workaholic few months, which also involved setting up a publishing company and doing every task except the actual printing by myself.

We have now shown the film several times in London; in Israel; in Germany; in the Netherlands; in the USA; and in Canada. Although it’s available online, it works much better when people can discuss it afterwards. We’ve been told that the book was spotted in Haringey’s Council Chamber when they voted to support the IHRA definition of antisemitism, despite aggressive heckling. People now wave it around when they are asked for evidence of antisemitism in the current Labour Party.

The aim of the Whitewashed Project has never been to have a go at the Labour Party, but always to expose the so far unchecked,  despite a few fine words,  influx of antisemitism under Corbyn and Co. The project raises tough issues for everyone, but particularly for Labour supporters. Most Jewish Labour supporters who believe in Israel’s legitimacy are currently either politically homeless or only stay on to fight.

The book of unearthed and previously unpublished individual submissions is a must read; and the film is a must see if you want to understand why and how anti Zionism is usually antisemitism. I’m expecting an outpouring of grief plus some controversy.
What I have never witnessed before is the positivity and good humour that meets us in Glasgow.

After the film Gordon Matheson describes his journey from 2014 when, as council leader, he did not prevent the flying of the Palestinian flag over Glasgow. Somehow, representatives of the Glasgow community, Jewish and not Jewish, managed to convey to this man of conscience what distress the action and ongoing prejudice had, and continues to cause them and how unjustly the Israelis are portrayed.  Gordon is now a member of Labour Friends of Israel.

Jamie Ross impresses as a young man who consistently and courageously stands up against hostility to Israel at Edinburgh University; this is a thankless and discouraging task when you can be ground down by angry haters who have no interest in promoting dialogue or peaceful solutions.

Then to David Hirsh, a senior lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmith’s College, University of London, who for years has been on the front line and profoundly affected by his indefatigable fight against left wing antisemitism, and the boycotting of Israeli Academics by the University and College Union. Despite winning many battles he places the rise of antisemism in a worldwide context and describes an apocalyptic situation.

So why do I end up feeling so energised from this meeting?
My three co- panellists have been won over by education and also now educate others.

Nigel Goodrich is in the audience. With the continuing support of StandWithUs, Judy Weleminsky and others he has set up Friends of Israel groups all over Scotland. They are also responsible for 2016’s and 2017’s Shalom Festivals at the Edinburgh Fringe where Israeli multicultural events were showcased. In 2016 audiences had to endure a barrage of abuse from the SPSC, but this year the Israeli presence was increased and the abuse reduced to almost nothing.

Questions and comments from the audience point out the differences between England and Scotland. We receive condolences on our continuing problems, particularly with Ken Livingstone .

The Glasgow Friends of Israel represents a community that, like all of us, has been hurt and continues to be so, particularly by the vile activities of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Committee, but they are not discouraged. They have a deep bond and they are all educators.

I think again about that stall in Buchanan Street, festooned with Israeli flags, where they positively, cheerfully, calmly and logically take on all comers, exposing the murderous, corrosive and hateful lies at the heart of the Scottish Palestinian support movement. The SPSC is negative and slanders us all. Every Israel supporter in Scotland, like us in England, wants peace and also justice and equality for each citizen in the region.
The Glasgow example is one from which we can all take hope and learn.

Here’s some more from Scotland the Brave:
High may your proud standards gloriously wave,
Land of my high endeavour, ….
Scotland the brave’

To buy the book and see the film, or to contact us to arrange a showing, please go to www.whitewashed.co.uk or to the Facebook page Whitwashed.
David Hirsh’s Contemporary Left Antisemitism is available on Amazon.
David Collier’s exposé of antisemitism in the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign:
http://david-collier.com/antisemitism-scottish-spsc/