For the JC posted April 28 2017
A Jewish leader in Scotland has protested to the Scottish Parliament over an attempt to throw her and two colleagues out of a meeting where antisemitism was to be discussed.
Micheline Brannan, the chair of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (Scojec), said she had written to the Presiding Officer of the Parliament, Ken Mackintosh, over the incident, which took place on Tuesday at the Cross-Party Group (CPG) on Palestine where she and her colleagues were present as observers.
Ms Brannan said Philip Chetwynd, the CPG treasurer, refused to proceed with a discussion on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism — with which the Scottish government has recently said it agrees.
She said that Mr Chetwynd described her and her ScoJec colleagues as “representatives of Zionist organisations” and “ideological terrorists” in whose presence he felt “intimidated”.
Mr Chetwynd said he had intended to lead a discussion about the definition of antisemitism in Scotland – although this was not on the original agenda – but would not do so because of the presence of the three observers.
But four MSPs (Members of the Scottish Parliament) attending the meeting said they could not support the exclusion. The trio were allowed to remain, though the item on antisemitism was not discussed.
Ms Brannan said: “I was surprised to find this item on the revised agenda that was tabled as the meeting started. Jewish groups regularly have observers at the CPG on Palestine.
“My colleagues and I had not said a word during the meeting. We were only there to listen and to learn. I considered that SCoJeC had a legitimate interest in any discussion on antisemitism in Scotland, and was astonished at this attempt to exclude us.
“I was distressed by Mr Chetwynd’s attack. I am proud that the MSPs present stood up for us, and that members of the public also supported us”.
In a strongly-worded letter to the Presiding Officer, Ms Brannan said that “when it came time for the discussion on the definition of antisemitism in Scotland, to my astonishment, Philip Chetwynd said that he was not prepared to speak to the item because of the presence of ‘representatives of three Zionist organisations’ at the meeting.
“Mr Chetwynd further said that we were ‘ideological terrorists’ and that he felt ‘intimidated’ and, at some point, he referred to Ken Livingstone and to an Al Jazeera programme some months ago which purported to expose activities in the Labour Party involving the Israel Embassy. He appeared to make some links in his mind between certain people attending the CPG meeting and these unrelated events”.
Ms Brannan told the meeting that she represented ScoJec, which was not a Zionist organisation but speaks for Jewish people living in Scotland “and that we have a strong interest in the definition of antisemitism in Scotland”.
She said Mr Chetwynd again said he would not speak and asked that a short-life working group be set up to look at the definition of antisemitism in Scotland as he did ‘not want to give these people ammunition’.
Ms Brannan described Mr Chetwynd’s remarks as “an antisemitic attack in the Scottish Parliament by the use of the term ‘ideological terrorists’”. She said that the public had been misled about the meeting because the item on the definition of antisemitism in Scotland was not advertised.
And she questioned “why the definition of antisemitism in Scotland is relevant to a Cross-Party Group on Palestine? I do not see how it furthers the objectives of the Group which are ‘to establish a forum for Palestinians living in Scotland; to promote a solution for the Palestinian people recognising the justice of their cause and the need for the Israeli and Palestinian leadership to adhere to UN resolutions and international law’”.
Mr Chetwynd defended his attempt to remove the trio from the meeting.
He told the Scottish Herald: “We challenged their right to be there, because it was clear they were infiltrators.
“The ground rules are are they have to accept the basic tenets of the group and one of the requirements is that they accept the need for Israel to abide all the United Nations resolutions and the rule of international law. They didn’t want to join.
“I said I regard Zionists as ideological terrorists because I think that is what they are. They actually infiltrate and try and destroy pro-Palestinian activities wherever they come across it.”
He added: “Antisemitism must be vigorously challenged in Scotland whenever it occurs but we absolutely cannot find ourselves in a position where criticising the state of Israel for its violations of international law and its illegal occupation of Palestine is automatically deemed to be antisemitic.”
The CPG and the Scottish Parliament has been approached for comment.
Meanwhile, the Board of Deputies said it welcomed the decision of the Scottish Government to become the latest to accept the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism.
The Board said: “The definition is a helpful tool in identifying and challenging antisemitism, and we look forward to Jewish community involvement in discussions about the definition’s implementation in Scotland, as well as further steps to fight this pernicious form of racism.”
Austria also adopted the IHRA definition this week. Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said that the move sent an important signal and was crucial “in order to identify and combat antisemitism more easily with a universally valid definition.”