Melanie Goldberg

Meet the Scottish Jews Fighting for a Ceasefire and Challenging Antisemitism

Credit: Melanie Goldberg

Tens of thousands have been taking to the streets of Scotland to protest in support of Palestinians amidst one of the deadliest periods in the region since 1948. Placards reading slogans such as ‘ceasefire now’, ‘free Palestine’, and ‘stop the genocide’ lined the crowds.

Others, a little more controversial, read ‘one Holocaust does not justify another’ and ‘Jesus was Palestinian’.

Chants of ‘Free Palestine’, ‘Viva Palestina’, and ‘From the River to the Sea’ filled the air in between speakers addressing the crowd. As well as the organisers of the event, several high-profile speakers were in attendance, such as the Scottish Greens Leader Patrick Harvie and SNP MP Anum Qaisar, amongst others.

The event was organised by the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) and the newly formed Gaza Genocide Emergency Committee (GGEC), which consists of a number of different organisations, including the SPSC, the Muslim Councils of Britain and Scotland, and Friends of Aqsa, amongst others.

The Jews that have been attending the protests across Scotland are certainly no monolith, with many holding varying political views, along with varying placards. Some homemade signs read slogans such as ‘not in my name’, and ‘Jews for Palestinian liberation. Other, more professional looking, banners from Na’amod read ‘release the hostages’, ‘ceasefire now’, and ‘British Jews demand freedom and equality for Palestinians’.

Naomi, who attended the Glasgow protest on the 18th of November as part of the Jewish bloc, has stated that she attended Saturday’s protest because she believes “that it was important for Jewish people who were against the occupation and who were against what’s happening in Gaza to be able to attend and say, partly ‘not in our name’, in the sense that Israel exists as a state for all Jews and as a place to provide security to Jews, and we want to make it clear that we don’t the actions that are happening in the name of the Jewish people.

“But also, on a moral basis of being absolutely repulsed by what is happening in Gaza – war crimes are being committed, since Hamas’ heinous war crimes on October 7th. And also, for strategic reasons – I don’t think that this war will bring any kind of solution. The only solution will be a peaceful and negotiated solution, you can’t bomb your way to peace.”

In regard to Saturday’s event, Naomi remarks that “I think it’s very difficult because in Scotland there’s a very small Jewish community, I think it’s scared about putting its head above the parapet, and it’s a more conservative Jewish community, so it can feel like there’s little space to speak out on these issues. It can feel like you’re between a rock and a hard place because, as I saw in some instances at the march, it can feel like a lot of the Palestinian solidarity organisations are saying things that may stray into the territory of antisemitism.”

As of November 29th, the Community Security Trust has recorded 1747 antisemitic incidents since October 7th, a 564% rise in antisemitic incidents in the UK compared to the same period last year. TELL MAMA has recorded 895 Islamophobic incidents between October 7th and November 19th, an increase of 630% compared to the year before.

Naomi adds that she “thought many of the speakers spoke very eloquently, and then there were others who said things that seemed either unnecessary or false or seemed to create a false hierarchy of pain, and even straying into conspiratorial thinking at points and whilst nobody outwardly suggested that what Hamas did was okay on October 7th, they suggested that Israel had made things up or had exaggerated it for political purposes, and that feels completely unnecessary.”

There are several conspiracies circulating that Israel orchestrated the attacks on the 7th of October and that they killed their own citizens. Many have also claimed that Hamas did not sexually assault Israeli women, behead victims, murder babies, burn Israelis alive, and treated their hostages kindly.

These theories have become popular with figures such as David Miller, Piers Robinson, and Max Blumenthal, who have all previously ascribed to conspiracies relating to Syria, Iran, and China.

Naomi also noted that there were also points where people were saying things like “the Zionists this, or Zionism is this”, which I find quite troubling, and that particularly came from someone who’s prominent in Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, who are independent of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Mick Napier said some quite troubling things about Jews while insisting that he’s not antisemitic and the cause isn’t antisemitic and that he’s just speaking about Zionists or he’s just speaking about Israel. And one of those things that I thought was problematic was that he kind of said ‘Israel is not like any other state’. It’s possible to call out Israeli war crimes without pretending that they are unique or that no other state acts like that, or that no other state has created a refugee crisis.

“It’s strange to pretend that Israel is uniquely evil and even strays into conspiratorial thinking and starts connecting Israelis with Jews by saying ‘Israel does this, Israel does that’ – starting to think of it as a kind of shadowy hand in everything bad and a permanent malevolent project.”

The SPSC itself has faced many controversies in the past, with many involving those in leadership positions. Some in the organisation have been criticised for their use of the term ‘Zio’, which is considered an antisemitic slur by many Jews. They have also previously organised a number of controversial Holocaust Memorial Day events, including a showing of the play Perdition and hosting a speaker who has openly supported Hamas. The play has been accused of being antisemitic and falsely accusing Jews of colluding with the Nazis. SPSC leader, Mick Napier, is also a recurring guest on Chris Williamson’s Palestine Declassified, which is broadcast on Iranian state-controlled channel Press TV, and is a stalwart supporter of David Miller, the former Bristol professor who more recently made claims on X that Jews do not face discrimination and that they are disproportionally overrepresented in the political and financial spheres.

Another prominent SPSC member, Pete Gregson, was expelled from GMB for accusing Israel of “exaggerating” the Holocaust for their own political means and for targeting a Jewish employee of the trade union. The former Labour activist also took part in an event run by far-right organisation, Keep Talking.

Naomi believes that it was important to attend a specific Jewish bloc for the protest both for safety reasons and because she feels that her identity as a Jew should not come into question when fighting for equal rights for Palestinians. She says that “I shouldn’t have to feel unsafe, and I think that blending into the crowd and not recognising my Jewish identity feels very strange.

“At the same time, I feel that it’s also important to say that there isn’t a single view of all Jews on this.”

Another attendee, who wishes to remain anonymous, says that they attended the march because they wanted to show “solidarity with people in Palestine, in Gaza, but also, I think it’s complicated, I mean it’s not uncritical ‘ra ra Palestine’. I think the other reason was to be alongside other Jewish people expressing whatever we were expressing in a sense of solidarity. I think it’s quite difficult to navigate your way through this because of the relationship to Israel.

“So, it’s not with unalloyed joy going along to the demonstration, but it felt like the right thing to do, the necessary thing to do.

“From a humanitarian point of view, which is where a lot of people are coming from, we want to see an end to the hostility, an end to the killings, but equally how that’s achieved is not straightforward, and being part of a Jewish grouping is, I think, important. It’s always been important for me.

“I don’t find the chanting and the slogans which are used in the demonstrations always particularly positive, from a Jewish perspective. So, it’s quite complicated. I think going along as part of a Jewish bloc also shows that not all Jewish people are in full support of what the State of Israel does. Whilst we may support Israelis because of family connections, it doesn’t mean we support the actions of the government.

“As I said, I’ve been to many demonstrations over the years. It was a big demonstration, which was good – it was lively, it was angry. Equally, standing in the rain listening to speeches for an hour and a half before moving off is just ridiculous. It’s no way to run a demonstration. At a face level, there were tens of thousands of people there, very committed, very angry, that’s great, but scratch the surface, and you’ve got all these ridiculous political tensions which lie behind it which are thoroughly problematic.”

About the Author
Melanie Goldberg is a Reform Jew from Glasgow. She recently earned an MA in Politics from the University of Glasgow, where she was a regular contributor for the University paper, The Glasgow Guardian, and has written for other publications such as Heroica, Glasgow University Magazine, and Empoword. She writes regularly about antisemitism, but also other issues such as sexism, racism, ableism, and international human rights issues.
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